Asian pig producers are taking the lead from European and American pig farmers and are focusing on improving animal welfare conditions and limiting antibiotic use in livestock.
Top-level Chinese pig specialists attended summit meetings organized by the DLG at the Hannover EuroTier shows in Germany in 2008 and 2010. It appears that Asian pig producers and processors are ready to adopt new welfare-friendly systems.
Observers said they believe the Chinese delegates were particularly interested in the 2010 keynote speaker, the EU welfare commissioner, Dr Andrea Gavinelli, who devoted much of his presentation to discussing the imminent partial sow stall ban due to come into effect in the EU in January 2013. They also took note of Western concerns over castration and the overuse of antibiotics.
Animal welfare advances
The standard of living in Asia is rising and with more disposable income, pork consumption is increasing. Therefore, Asian pork producers are looking for ways to produce pork as efficiently and cheaply as possible.
Because the Asian pork market is growing, all the major genetics houses in North America and Europe are rushing to do business in Asia. Countries, such as China and Vietnam need pigs that consistently produce large, healthy litters that will grow quickly and convert feed efficiently.
The vast majority of pig farms in Asia currently house their gestating sows in stalls, as management is relatively easy. Replacement breeding gilts, though, are often housed in groups on solid floors which are regularly swilled down or on slatted flooring and are trough-fed or via ad lib feeders.
However, the rapidly increasing middle class in China are aware of animal production techniques and an increasing number of pig producers want to capitalize on a niche market for welfare-friendly and organic pork.
The World Society for the Protection of Animals, WSPA, has even set up a special “model farm project” in China, with a series of small farms producing pigs under organic conditions. Organic pig farmers are commanding a premium price for their pork, which is being consumed by a growing number of middle-class Chinese consumers, who want ethically produced pig meat. Since 2007, the WPSA has been collaborating with Chinese authorities to train slaughterhouse workers on how to handle and slaughter pigs humanely.
Asian market buying equipment
Many Western equipment companies are selling electronic sow feeding systems developed for the European and North American markets in China.
Roger Parfitt, pig expert and technical specialist with Big Dutchman (China) said, “There is growing interest here in the group housing of sows and several big units are investing in our Callmatic ESF systems. Progressive Chinese pig farmers want to be technically advanced.”
Agreeing with this, Andrew Houston, British pig producer and managing director of UK-based MPS Agri said, “We are making good progress in China with our ESF systems, with inquiries from a number of producers wishing to make the grade for UK welfare standards, so they may tap into the added value market. However, there is no premium in the domestic market yet, as far as animal welfare is concerned.”
Even the debate over castration, a big issue in Europe where many pig producers are using Improvac, Pfizer’s anti- boar taint vaccine, has crossed over the borders into several Asian countries.
Jim Allison, the company’s senior veterinary director, pointed out that a number of independent studies using trained taste panels in Asia have confirmed the acceptability of pork from vaccinated "entires.” In Asia, people were thought to be more sensitive to boar taint than Europeans due to cultural and genetic reasons.
Thai pig producers, for example, sell their pigs to middlemen and thanks to the success of local trials and activities such as “tasting parties,” vaccinated entires significantly have gained acceptance and receive a price premium.
Rawat Pokawattana farms 3,000 sows in southern Thailand and is concerned about boar taint and the pain castration could cause piglets. In addition to the mortality and check on growth that may result from this practice.
Using a vaccine, he has kept 20% of his male pigs intact. These pigs reach market weight (100kg) nine days sooner than castrates, saving feed and providing Pokawattana with higher prices, because of their superior carcass characteristics. He pointed out that the vaccinated pigs were fed higher protein and energy rations to support their improved lean meat deposition and faster growth rate.
Antibiotic cut backs
UK pig producers 40 years ago routinely included antibiotic cocktails in feeds, especially post weaning diets as a short cut to treating digestive disorders that could have been cured by better management and husbandry techniques. Today, these drugs are only available with a prescription.
In contrast, visitors to Asia cannot help but notice the vast number of companies freely selling antibiotics. Naturally, these drugs have a place in disease control when used responsibly, but this is often not the case.
Eddy Ng owns a 550-sow pig business based outside Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and he also manages several restaurants and meat shops. His business is HACCP certified and was the first in Malaysia to achieve ISO 2200 status. However, he bemoans the fact that the indiscriminate feeding of antibiotics to pigs has caused many affluent Malaysians to eat other meat.
Even large animal feed companies are concerned about the routine inclusion of antibiotics in feeds. “The company is very concerned about antibiotic resistance and so we have been trialing probiotics and other ‘green’ growth promoters,” said Ta Van Hung, vice general director at Proconco.
Asian countries are likely soon to follow their counterparts in the West as far as the use of antibiotics is concerned. It appears they won’t be far behind with regard to adopting more welfare-friendly production techniques, as well – but Rome wasn’t built in a day!
WPSA website; Asian Pork Aug 2011