Meat & Livestock News

Study Reveals Potential for Reducing Antibiotic Use in Pork Production by Preventing Common Swine Disease

As global concerns about antimicrobial resistance intensify, major investor groups are increasingly urging food service companies to minimise antimicrobial usage in their protein supply chains. In response, these companies are committing to antibiotic stewardship and seeking assistance from their protein suppliers.

Banks Baker, Global Director of Product Sustainability at PIC, emphasised the growing consumer interest in the origins and production methods of their food. Consumers expect high standards in animal care, antimicrobial stewardship, and sustainable practices. To meet these expectations, the food system requires innovative solutions and new technologies.

One such technology is gene editing, already making significant strides in human healthcare by potentially treating diseases like HIV, sickle cell anaemia, and various cancers.

This technology, recognised by the World Health Organization for its potential in human health, also offers disease-resistance benefits for improving animal health. By reducing disease prevalence in swine herds, gene editing could lessen the reliance on antibiotics in pork production.

For over three decades, the Porcine Respiratory and Reproductive Syndrome (PRRS) virus has been a major challenge for pork producers worldwide. This virus not only affects pig health and welfare but also poses sustainability challenges for pork supply. It weakens pigs’ immune systems, making them more susceptible to secondary infections that often require antibiotic treatment.

Isadora Machado, a Graduate Research Assistant at Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, led a study quantifying the impact of a PRRS outbreak on antibiotic use in pig farms.

The research revealed a 379% increase in injectable and water antimicrobial use in nursery pigs during a 15-week epidemic phase post-PRRS infection. Additionally, injectable antibiotic use in older pigs rose by 274%. The impact is more pronounced in nursery and grower pigs due to their less developed immune systems compared to finisher pigs.

PIC has developed a solution using gene editing technology to protect pigs from the PRRS virus. By deleting a small portion of the pig’s DNA that encodes a protein used by the virus to infect cells, the edited pigs become resistant to PRRS. This resistance is inheritable, passing on to the pig’s offspring.

Lucina Galina, DVM, PhD, Technical Project Director at PIC, highlighted the secondary benefits of adopting PRRS-resistant pigs. These include improved herd health and reduced antibiotic usage, supporting antimicrobial stewardship in animal protein production and helping stakeholders meet animal welfare and antibiotic reduction goals.

PIC is currently seeking approval for the PRRS-resistant pig in various countries, including the United States, Canada, China, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, and other pork-producing nations.

Each country’s unique regulatory system and biotechnology policies will influence the approval process and timeline. A series of regulatory decisions are anticipated in the coming years, with the United States Food and Drug Administration and the government of Colombia already showing favourable responses.