PROHEALTH: ‘Sustainable intensive pig and poultry production’ completed in January 2019. Its conclusion culminated in a series of events that summarised the outcomes of the project and provided a starting point for the future implementation of the project outcomes. The project’s legacy is in the variety of its outputs including scientific papers, technical notes and featured videos, Best Practice Guidelines and Policy Briefs. The project’s website https://www.fp7-prohealth.eu/ includes all of the above outputs and will continue to operate for two more years and be updated with relevant Newsletter articles, such as these. A PROHEALTH Knowledge Exchange symposium is expected to be a regular occurrence; the next one will take place in Poland in 2020 (for details see fp7-prohealth.eu). The project partners continue to participate actively in the debate about the future of food production in the EU, by engaging in a variety of fora, including TV programmes and a YouTube Channel. We continue to contribute to the debate about the disconnect between public perception and sustainable livestock production by participating in events such as ‘Food and Farming: well-fed or fed up?’ organised in Brussels by the association representing manufacturers of animal medicines, vaccines and other animal health products in Europe (https://www.animalhealtheurope.eu/events/51-food-and-farming-well-fed-or-fed-up.html).
PROHEALTH sought to improve the control of pig and poultry production diseases, i.e. diseases that arise as a consequence of how animals are managed and whose prevalence increases with the intensity of production systems, and to respond to the increasing demand for the commodities arising from them, whilst reducing antimicrobial inputs. This was expected to be achieved without any compromises in animal welfare. Highlights of the project outcomes include:
- Determination of the internal and external biosecurity scores, and risk factors for production diseases in pig, broiler and layer chicken, and turkey farms across the EU. For example, the project found a close correlation between biosecurity issues and first week and overall mortality in broilers.
- Identification of the genetic and environmental factors involved in neonatal survival and that exert long-term developmental influences on the health of pigs and poultry.
- Characterisation of new beneficial physiological and behavioural traits in sows, such as sow posture change transitions that threaten crushing of piglets. Research showed that sows from a more enriched gestation environment, and those given improved human-animal interactions, have reduced stress and lower neonatal piglet mortality.
- Identification of the most common production diseases in broiler breeder production; the project found that Escherichia coli infections were the most common cause of mortality in broiler breeders. The foot pad was shown to be a possible port of entry for Gram positive bacteria, resulting in increased mortality and poor health.
- Development of nutritional strategies for reducing the prevalence of production diseases in pigs and poultry, such as supplementation with vitamin D in broilers. The strategies accounted for the interaction between nutrition and genetics in such livestock. Good hygiene in housing improved pig health in the growing-finishing phase and pig weight at slaughter. However, these improvements were also affected by the genetic makeup of the pig, so not all pigs benefited equally from ideal environments.
- Quantification of the farm environment contribution to the expression of respiratory diseases in pigs over time, through the use of innovative environmental monitoring sensors. A change in the environment, such as barn humidity and temperature, can result in occurrences of pigs showing symptoms of respiratory disease within 1–7 days, meaning that there is a period of time during which their keepers can act to mitigate the negative effect of respiratory diseases.
- Development of novel genetic biomarker panels that could potentially diagnose production diseases in pigs and poultry. Genetic signatures that can determine pigs with digestive and respiratory deficiencies were identified. Novel diagnostic markers for the detection of necrotic enteritis and coccidiosis in poultry are under patent application and their commercialisation is being negotiated.
- A set of large scale intervention trials for reduction of production diseases of pigs and poultry were carried out on commercial farms. These provided the link between controlled research and farm conditions. Testing these interventions on farm allowed for holistic assessment, including consideration of their economic and social acceptability consequences.
- The characterisation of the socio-economic impacts of production diseases, including impacts related to animal welfare, ethical considerations, and impacts on costs and efficiency of production on the farm was addressed. Stakeholder surveys were carried out and helped to identify key health issues and future possibilities in animal health and the control of production diseases. The economic and whole chain consequences of the preferred interventions were quantified.
By developing societally acceptable, cost-effective and sustainable disease control methods that improved animal health and welfare, whilst enhancing productivity, we have already reported as a direct consequence of the project:
1) Reductions in veterinary interventions and animal mortalities across life-stages in the operations of the project’s Industry partners and associates. We reported measurable reductions in the need for veterinary interventions in partner countries and an initial reduction of 1% in mortality in broilers in partner operations.
2) Substantial reductions in piglet mortality: project partners in Belgium report 2% reductions in mortalities in Belgium and Netherlands, whilst SEGES, the Danish pig production advisory service has estimated that a one percentage reduction in mortality equates to a saving of €7m pa for the Danish pig industry alone.
3) Reductions in the incidence of respiratory and reproductive problems in pigs and poultry in farms across the EU, and reductions in the use of disinfectants, whilst still controlling the horizontal and vertical transmission of eggshell-bound bacteria.
5) Major Spanish producers / project partners developed the ability to produce ‘antibiotic-free ever’ chicken meat, whilst UK broiler ‘farms that adopted PROHEALTH protocols have reduced antibiotic usage (some have used no antibiotics for a year), as they could prevent diseases that were threatening flocks’.
There is substantial evidence that control practices developed by PROHEALTH form the basis of national initiatives for enhancement of pig and poultry health across Europe. In Ireland the recommendations and guidelines of PROHEALTH ‘have been adopted for the whole country as part of the animal health initiatives developed by the Department of Agriculture within the Rural Development Plan’; this is despite the fact that Ireland was not formally part of PROHEALTH. The Belgian Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain has issued guidelines for enhanced biosecurity based on project results, especially in relation to the threat of African Swine Fever.
Improvements in animal health and welfare respond to concerns about the treatment of livestock, highlighted in several Eurobarometer citizen surveys, and contribute towards the development of sustainable livestock production. At the same time, enhancement of competitiveness of the pig and poultry production sectors responds to the concerns about EU food security and rural livelihoods. PROHEALTH engaged with citizens and consumers and other Stakeholders, by conducting large scale surveys to identify societally acceptable methods for the control of production diseases. Lack of engagement with citizens and consumers is one of the bottlenecks for the success and implementation of the European Knowledge Based Bio-economy Research and Innovation.