Pigs bred to produce healthy oils
Scientists have created pigs that produce compounds which have been widely touted as good for the heart. Much research has suggested that omega-3 fats can cut the risk of heart disease, although the link has been challenged in a new paper. A University of Pittsburgh-led team used gene technology to breed animals that produce the fats. The Nature Biotechnology study raises the prospect of a new source for the fats, which humans cannot produce. Currently, the only way for humans to realise the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids is by taking dietary supplements, eating certain types of plants or oily fish such as salmon and tuna that may also contain high levels of mercury. The study may also help scientists to analyse the effect of the fats on cardiovascular function, not only in the pigs, but in humans as well. To stimulate production of omega-3 fatty acids in pigs the researchers transferred a key gene into immature foetal cells that give rise to certain tissues in the fully-developed animal. The gene – fat-1 – controls the conversion of more abundant omega-6 fats into the omega-3 form. “We could use these animals as a model to see what happens to heart health if we increase the omega-3 levels in the body.” “First, the pigs could have better cardiovascular function and therefore live longer, which would limit livestock loss for farmers. Second, they could be healthier animals for human consumption.” Dr Jing Kang, who also worked on the study, said: “Livestock with a health ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids may be a promising way to re-balance the modern diet without relying solely on diminishing fish supplies or supplements.” Professor Keith Kendrick, of the Babraham Institute, University of Cambridge, agreed that the genetically-modified pigs might help scientists assess the role of omega-3 fats in reducing cardiovascular disease. Professor Tom Sanders, and expert in nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London, said it was likely that omega-6 fats played a key role in many regulatory processes. Animals bred to synthesise omega-3 fats from omega-6 fats might be vulnerable to disorders, include problems with mood and appetite. A review of 89 studies into the health benefits of omega-3 fats published by the British Medical Journal last week concluded that there was little evidence to suggest the oils had a significant impact on health.
Pigs – Farm Sanctuary
The life of a breeding sow in the U.S. pork industry is one of extreme confinement, stress, and suffering. There were more than 5.8 million pigs used for breeding in the United States in 2011, most of whom were confined to gestation crates, typically lined up row after row in large sheds. These naturally curious and intelligent animals are first impregnated at 7 months of age and live out their lives in a cycle of pregnancy, birth, and nursing until they are eventually sent to slaughter. The majority of breeding sows spend nearly the entirety of each pregnancy confined to a gestation crate, which is only slightly larger than their body, making it impossible for them to lie down comfortably or even turn around. Gestation crate floors are usually made of slats, which allow manure to fall through, meaning that sows live directly above their own waste. This design exposes sows to high levels of ammonia, and respiratory disease is common in confined sows. Standing on the hard, unnatural slatted flooring of a gestation crate takes a toll on pigs’ feet, causing excessive foot injuries, damage to joints, and even lameness. The intense boredom and frustration pigs suffer in gestation crates have been blamed by researchers for abnormal, neurotic behaviors confined pigs sometimes exhibit, like repetitively biting at the bars of the gestation crate or chewing with an empty mouth. These behaviors can lead to additional suffering by causing sores and mouth damage. Shortly before piglets are born, sows are moved to “Farrowing crates” where the piglets will be nursed. The crates, meant to separate the mother from the piglets to avoid crushing, are restrictive to the point that the mother pig can only stand and lie down – she cannot even turn around to see her piglets. At only 17-20 days old, the piglets are taken away from their mothers and undergo a series of mutilations, including being castrated and having a portion of their tails removed without any sort of pain relief. The piglets spend the next 6 months of their lives confined to pens until they reach “Market weight”; they are then trucked to slaughter. Once piglets are weaned, their mothers are put back into the restrictive gestation crates and re-impregnated, and the cycle continues at an average of 2.1-2.5 litters per year until the sow is considered spent and is sent to slaughter herself.
Risk assessment for organic swine health
Given the variety of diseases prevalent in swine production, both in the United States and abroad, it is important to understand the risks associated with organic swine production. Overall numbers for certified organic livestock remain low compared to the overall U.S. swine numbers, with approximately 12,000 animals in 2011. There are thousands of non-certified organic swine herds which are not accounted in official statistics, but where farmers still use organic production practices. Integrated farming systems involving both crop and livestock production in a closed system can reduce financial risk for the producer, since organic producers generally receive premiums or higher prices for their products sold that cover and possibly reduce disease risk so long as there is no outside contact with other pigs or animals, such as cows, or poultry. Since the requirements of organic swine systems require outdoor access and greater space requirements per animal than conventional systems, breeds and breeding management are very important for producers. The environment of the animal is one of the most important determinants of disease risk and exposure for organic swine. A major difference between conventional, outdoor production and organic production is the high proportion of silage and roughage in the organic feed. At all stages of the life cycle, animals may be exposed to diseases and in the case of organic swine, without the availability of normal industry drugs and prophylactic medication; as internal parasites are a large component of risk. According to USDA-NOP Guidelines, antibiotics and other treatments that no longer make the animal organic are required to maintain overall herd health. Toxoplasmosis, a disease caused by Toxoplasma gondii is prevalent in organic pastured systems for swine. Organic producers should maintain buffers and adequate housing to maintain proper swine health. Crowding, mixing of groups, and diets all play a role in disease risk management, and sound holistic management including proper feed rations, vaccines, bedding, are used by organic producers to manage diseases and maintain herd health. Risk of organic swine diseases can be high depending on geographic region, breeds, and farmer management. Enhancing animal health security and food safety in organic livestock production. Animal health in organic livestock production systems: a review.