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HOGWASH! Study: Raising pigs indoors healthier for animals, people

By Cliff Gauldin | Feedstuffs FoodLink

- Many swine diseases saw declines or eradication since move to confined operations.

- Raising pigs indoors reduced use of anti-parasitic agents.

- Outdoor pigs can damage land, environment.

Raising pigs indoors is healthier for the animals and has allowed for a higher-quality product for consumers, according to a new study, and the researchers hope it will provide producers with ammunition to combat attacks on modern production practices.

"We're hoping to get this information out to producers," said Beth Young, swine veterinarian with the University of Missouri Commercial Agriculture Program. "If producers are faced with criticism, we will be able to provide them with some information that will help them fight back. I think that's really the ultimate goal of the project."

The researchers examined how the swine industry has changed in a number of areas over the last several decades. Young's area of concentration was animal health.

"Since the 1940s, we've taken pigs off of dirt lots and pasture and moved them into buildings. That has dramatically reduced the parasite load in commercially produced pigs," she said.

The positive impact on productivity, according to Young, is significantly reduced use of anti-parasitic agents that, in some cases, has made pork a healthier product for people to eat.

"For example, lung worms and kidney worms used to be very prevalent in pigs, and both of those have a negative impact on feed efficiency and productivity," Young said. "Today, both of those parasites are virtually nonexistent in commercially raised pigs."

The Missouri report shows that in the 1940s, 55-70% of pigs were infected with lung worms, but by the 1970s, lung worm outbreaks only affected about 11% of farms (Table). Similarly, 78-94% of pigs were infected with kidney worms in the 1940s, while today, kidney worms are a rarity.

Trichinella and toxoplasma also have seen dramatic drops in recent decades. Scientists believe this is because pigs are not feeding on garbage and have no access to wildlife in confined facilities. Today, the only real danger of contracting trichinella through food consumption is from eating game meat.

Toxoplasma was noted in 42% of sows in the 1970s and is now down to 6% because confined pigs are not exposed to cats, which carry the parasite.

Many other swine diseases have seen significant decreases or eradication since the move to confined operations, Young said. The list includes swine dysentery, atrophic rhinitis, actinobacillus pleuropneumoniae, brucellosis, classical swine fever (hog cholera) and pseudorabies.

The Missouri researchers also looked at changes in nutrition, environmental impact and economic performance.

"We also know that raising pigs outdoors can have a negative impact on the environment," Young said. "Pigs raised outdoors do a lot of damage to the land, and you can't regulate what's happening with the manure, whereas when we raise pigs indoors, we have much greater control over the manure pigs are producing."

Among other things, the report also shows how producers today are able to produce more pork per unit of land and per unit of corn.

Young said the researchers hope to ultimately produce a peer-reviewed paper.

"There's a lot of negative information out there about the swine industry and why we've gone to raising pigs in confinement," Young said. "I think we're trying to illustrate the reasons why we've done this -- the positive impact of raising pigs the way we do today -- the positive impact it has had on pig production."

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