Seeking ‘new solutions’ for food production

01 February 2014, at 12:00am

PROHEALTH, a consortium of 22 research partners from 11 European countries co-ordinated by Newcastle University, has been awarded the largest ever grant given by the European Union in the animal health field (€11.9 million) “to identify new solutions to reconcile modern animal production systems and sustainability”.

The project focuses on exploring ways to increase production quality, limiting environmental impact and preserving profitability for farmers and those who make their living from animal food production.

The PROHEALTH (PROduction HEALTH – sustainable intensive pig and poultry production) consortium comprises 10 academic partners, one European association, four industry partners and seven small and medium- sized enterprises with expertise in veterinary science and epidemiology, animal physiology and immunology, socioeconomics, genetics and nutrition, as well as the welfare and production science of pigs and poultry.

It draws its members from the UK, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, The Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Switzerland.

“The overarching aim of the five- year PROHEALTH project is to improve the competitiveness and sustainability of intensive pig and poultry farming in Europe. The key point of difference is an holistic approach focusing on understanding the multifactorial dimension of animal diseases linked to the intensification of production, and using this knowledge to develop, evaluate and disseminate effective control and improvement strategies for reducing impact throughout the EU,” said the pro-vice chancellor of Newcastle University, Professor Steve Homans.

To that end, PROHEALTH will address production diseases of pigs and poultry (broiler and egg-laying chickens and turkeys) raised in a wide range of intensive systems across the EU. The complexity, causality, extent and risks of different disease states and their interactions will be examined under field conditions.

Epidemiological and experimental approaches will be applied to investigate links between genetic predisposition (animal) and environmental stressors (housing, nutrition, management), in addition to the dynamic influence of environment on disease.


“This is a very synergistic partnership,” said Alejandro Bernal, executive vice- president of Zoetis and area president for the Europe, Africa and Middle East region, the exclusive animal health company partner of the consortium. “All parties can benefit from the combined expertise and resource of what is probably the biggest poultry and pigs research network in the world at the moment.

“This is a great example of a private/public initiative to advance our scientific knowledge, respond to the challenges of the future for our world and improve animal welfare.”

Dr Theo Kanellos, director of Sstrategic alliances for Zoetis, said that PROHEALTH would deliver novel diagnostics to predict the propensity of production-disease development in animals, communication tools for increasing awareness and sharing knowledge (such as e-learning), in addition to spearheading technological advances.

“Putting the multifactorial improvement strategies into practice is expected to yield better quality products in an animal-welfare friendly manner, in line with economic and environmental sustainability, thereby improving modern pig and poultry farming systems across the EU, and also raising the bar for animal production worldwide.

“Over the next 40 years, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations projects that the global requirement for animal derived protein will increase by 50%.

“Sustainability will be essential to meet this global demand for safe and quality food, at an affordable price, while making the best possible use of natural resources.

“According to the World Organisation for Animal Health, 30% of food production is already lost due to infectious and non-infectious diseases occurring at farm level and at both a European and global level. PROHEALTH will take aim at this loss which, if not addressed, will limit the ability to respond to demand for animal protein, as well as compromising animal welfare,” Dr Kanellos said.

The School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development of Newcastle University is regarded as the UK’s leading institution for education and research into pig and poultry systems and was selected by the British Pig Executive as the Centre for National Pig Development Research.

The university also has a strong tradition of research into societal issues associated with food production. Research is conducted in purpose-built facilities and in collaboration with UK and EU-based livestock industries.

In addition to Newcastle University, UK-based organisations involved are Aviagen (a broiler and turkey breeding company), JSR Genetics, Poultry Health Services (a veterinary consultancy), and the Nottingham and Reading universities.