Photo: Danish Agriculture & Food Council

Sustainable and climate-friendly pig meat production is achieved through breeding work

Focus on global climate change and the ways in which the food sector can tackle it has never been greater or more relevant than today. All over the world we are seeing more extreme weather conditions and more and more scientific evidence of the global impact of greenhouse gases on the environment.

Sustainable pig production is an important item on the climate agenda because the rapid rise in pig meat consumption and production is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. This is the result in particular of the rise in the world population and a decline in global poverty. Even if large parts of the western world have cut down on meat consumption per capita, the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organisation predicts that global consumption will increase, driven by middle-income countries such as China and Brazil.

One of the means by which pig meat production can be even more sustainable and climate friendly is breeding. In fact, it all starts here. We asked Tage Ostersen from Breeding & Genetics, SEGES, Danish Agriculture & Food Council, why breeding work is important in the sustainable development of pig meat production.

Tage Ostersen
Head of Department
Breeding & Genetics
SEGES, Danish Agriculture & Food Council

Why is it important to include pig breeding and genetics in the effort to make our pig meat production more sustainable?
Tage Ostersen: “Breeding work is an important tool because it creates increased productivity in pig production, which we can build on year by year. It is also an important tool in continuing to reduce climate impact and making pig meat production more sustainable over the coming generations. The basic reason is that the most important breeding goal for the majority of breeding programmes is to produce more with fewer resources – and that is sustainable.”

What are the most important aspects of breeding in terms of sustainability?
Tage Ostersen: “Almost everything we breed for has a positive effect on sustainability because breeding work is largely about producing more for less. The most important elements are undoubtedly breeding for feed efficiency and for litter size. In particular, improved feed efficiency reduces climate gas emissions from feed production as the individual pig consumes less feed prior to slaughtering. Increased litter sizes reduce the emission of climate gases from slurry handling and the need for sow feed as fewer sows are required to produce the same number of pigs.”

Do Danish pigs have any special characteristics in terms of the climate and sustainability?
Tage Ostersen: “In general, Danish pigs are highly efficient. What makes Danish pigs different is their significantly higher litter sizes and a higher daily gain. The difference can be seen in figs. 12 and 17 from the international Interpig Report.

Fig 12: Weaned pigs per litter (Source: InterPIG 2019).

Figure 17: Standardized daily gain from 30-120 kg. live weight in 2019, (Source: InterPIG 2019).

Are there any other important points to make about Danish pig production in relation to your sustainability work?
Tage Ostersen: “Sustainability and breeding go hand in hand. Everything we’re engaged in involves sustainability in one way or another. We’re constantly working on new initiatives so that we can get the most out of the pig’s genetics. If successful, the Metabolomics project will have a very positive effect on breeding for feed efficiency and sustainability. We’re also actively engaged in improving survival rates which will also have a positive impact on sustainability. The Metabolomic project collects metabolomic data from blood samples from pigs. Metabolomic data is an extra piece of information that can be used to study a pig’s metabolism at molecular level. We’re developing methods that can use this extra layer of information to predict the genetic potential of pigs even more effectively.”