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£2m pig research project to examine herd health and welfare

7th Sep 2016 / By Alistair Driver

More than £2 million has been awarded to scientists at the University of Lincoln to lead what they are describing as the most comprehensive study of the British pig industry ever conducted.

The study will be part of the Global Food Security (GFS) programme, which examines the resilience of the UK food system in a global context.

To give its full title, 'PIGSustain: predicting the impacts of intensification and future changes on UK pig industry resilience' will bring together all existing data with new scientific studies to build an overview of the entire industry.

The academics leading the project will produce a model to try and predict how major economic and environmental changes will affect the industry, from farmer to retailer.

An important element will be gathering information on emerging diseases within the UK pig population, with special attention paid to zoonotic diseases that can be transmitted to humans.

Professor Nigel Allinson MBE from the University of Lincoln’s School of Computer Science will devise a new monitoring system to be installed within pig pens. It will provide detailed, real-time measures of health and welfare on-farm.

The four-year project will also collect data from other sources in order to assess how health and welfare are linked with factors like sustainable intensification, climate and geography.

Future changes 

Principal Investigator Dr Lisa Collins, from Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences at the University, said:  “At present, we don’t have a continuous, objective and quantified understanding of the health and welfare of our national pig herd.

“We can’t predict how it will be impacted by future changes to the industry, and we are unable to tell how resilient the UK pig industry is as a whole.

“Through PIGSustain we will address all of these uncertainties. This is a truly cross-disciplinary project, which pushes the boundaries of current scientific and social scientific knowledge in many directions.”

NPA's Georgina Crayford has spoken to Dr Collins about how the association could contribute to the project.

Georgina said: "This is a really impressive project. It could very valuable in improving our wider understanding of the industry and providing us with new knowledge to help address some of the issues we face."

"The researchers have already been engaging with people in the industry and we certainly look forward to playing our part." 

The project is receiving funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Scottish Government.

Project partners include the University of Reading, University of Leeds and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, as well as AHDB, Red Tractor, large-scale producers, pig veterinarians and government executive agencies for animal health.