Feed efficiency is critically important in pig production. Sustainable pig production is characterized by economic profitability through improvement of productive output, while maintaining animal health and welfare, and without compromising environmental resources. This emphasizes the need to assess feed efficiency and sustainability of its improvement at different scales. At the animal level, improved feed efficiency may result in a mismatch between energy input from feed, and energy output to production and vital metabolic functions. Pigs may become less robust with compromised behavior, physiology and immunological functions. This may in particular affect sustainability of pig production and farm profitability on low quality feeds. However, at the regional and national production level, sustainability may be enhanced by improving the efficiency of pigs to transform local, low quality feed into meat. This may require a different type of pig than those currently selected in intensive high quality input – high output production systems.
Our long-term goal is to enhance sustainability of European pig production through improved feed efficiency at different scales. The supporting objectives of this goal are to:
1. Develop tools to evaluate the consequence of improved feed efficiency for behavior, physiology and immunological functions that can be used to improve robustness through genetic selection.
2. Evaluate if improved feed efficiency and animal robustness can be sustained with more reliance on local feed resources and feedstuff co-products or if a different type of animal is required.
3. Evaluate the environmental and social impact, and economic viability of improved feed efficiency on local feed resources and feedstuff co-products.
4. Based on the obtained results, to develop future sustainable pig production systems.
Objective 1: Improving feed efficiency
Feed costs account for up to 85% of total livestock production costs, therefore, feed efficiency directly affects profitability of animal production through reduced feed costs. In addition, feed associated activities are responsible for a significant part of the environmental impact. International efforts are currently being undertaken to improve the accuracy of feed recording, implement precision feeding techniques, and increase feed efficiency by genetic selection. However, since improvement of feed efficiency requires reduced food resource inputs per unit of product outputs, the animal’s food resource allocation pattern will be affected. This may potentially negatively affect the metabolic balance and compromise overall animal robustness. A strong focus on animal robustness is required to guarantee resilience and competitiveness of European Animal Production. Since feed efficiency is determined by any process affecting the physiological trajectory between feed digestion and metabolic fuel use, efforts are being undertaken to determine predictive biomarkers that can be measured early in life as a proxy for feed efficiency during the production cycle that may be used to improve feed efficiency genetically. However, it may also be desirable to use biomarkers at different stages of the production cycle in order to monitor animal robustness when feed efficiency is improved. In turn, these traits may be used to improve robustness and welfare when included in the genetic evaluation. A better understanding of the implication of improving feed efficiency on animal robustness will improve animal welfare, breeding strategies and consumer acceptance of pig production and breeding practices.
Objective 2: Sustainable pig production
Sustainability of pig production does, however, not end at the animal or farm production scale. Sustainable agriculture includes animals and crops, i.e., also the safeguarding and sustainable use of environmental resources. When sustainable intensification translates to increasing external inputs this may be regarded as unsustainable in view of risks for the environment, especially in regions with a small yield gap, such as in Europe. Alternatively, sustainability of production can be enhanced by improving the efficiency of pigs to transform local, low quality feed into meat. Feeding co-products from human food, food waste and biomass from marginal lands will contribute to sustainable nutrition security. However, since the quantity and quality of feed resources limits productive output, this may require a different type of pig with different performance characteristics than those currently selected for in intensive, high quality input – high output production systems. Improving the efficiency of pigs to transform local, low quality feed into meat improves resource use to reduce waste and enhance the environmental sustainability of European Animal Production.
Objective 3: Life Cycle Assessment
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is an internationally accepted and standardized holistic method to evaluate the impact of a product life cycle. Environmental LCA is a methodology for evaluating the material and energy inputs and emissions associate with each stage of the life cycle, whereas a social and socio-economic LCA allows identification of key issues and assessment of social conditions in the production, use, and disposal of products. Social assessment facilitates the understanding of the social benefits and burdens that may accrue to stakeholders along the life cycle. Environmental and social assessment is crucial in the evaluation of the regional and national impact of a co-product-based sustainable pig production system. This will involve close participation and inputs of the stakeholder’s and their perception of the future in different regions.
Objective 4: development of A novel pig production system
The need for sustainable management of food production is a joint issue of nations, continents and the world, indeed, economic, environmental and social components are integrated between countries at all levels. Positive environmental and socio-economic impacts of improvement in feed efficiency of pig genotypes that are best adapted to local, co-product based feeds may positively change European and global pig production. The consortium, based on both novel and existing experimental input, input from stakeholders and literature reviews will model a pig production system with improved feed efficiency that is sustainable with regard to environmental and social aspects. The model will be designed to: 1, improve productivity, resilience and competitiveness of European Animal Production, 2, Improve resource use and waste and enhance the environmental sustainability of European Animal Production, and 3, to enhance consumer acceptability and address social challenges associated with animal welfare.