Production diseases are diseases which persist in intensive animal production systems, and the more intensive the system, the more prevalent or severe such diseases become. These diseases, such as lameness in sows and post-weaning diarrhoea in pigs, or enteritis and locomotory problems in poultry, have a great impact worldwide.
The impact occurs because animal health and welfare is compromised, and there is a loss in performance, involving increased mortality and morbidity. Treatment and control of such diseases is the major reason for the use of antibiotics in the food chain.
Impact of intensification of production
At a time of continuing world population growth and increasing concerns about future food security, sustainable intensification of livestock production has become a policy objective.
However, intensification of production can increase the level of potential disease which animals experience whilst, at the same time, making them more susceptible to such disease. This increased susceptibility results from metabolic changes associated with selection for a high level and efficiency of production, and from increased risk of stress in the animals associated with their more restrictive environment.
PROHEALTH: a holistic approach to production diseases
Production diseases usually originate from a complex interaction of genetics, environment (including housing, nutrition and management) and pathogens. In the past, efforts to control production diseases have focused on controlling either the pathogen or the animal’s genetic susceptibility. In reality, there are many interacting factors which determine whether an animal which is subject to an infectious or metabolic challenge will show clinical, or subclinical, signs of disease.
The PROHEALTH project is motivated by the belief that a more holistic view of production diseases is required. If we investigate how the many different and complex factors on the farm interact with the inherent resistance in an animal, and also look at the biological mechanisms that underlie the differences in susceptibility between animals in the same environment, we will be able to develop more effective control strategies. This will result in demonstrable improvements to animal welfare as well as bringing economic benefits.