Locally produced genetic tests save everyone money
EVERYONE WANTS CHEAP FOOD – in fact, the recently released third annual Canadian Centre for Food Integrity research study shows rising food costs are what concern consumers the most.
The rising cost of food maintained the top position for the third year in a row, at 67 per cent. That’s up five per cent in just one year.
Keeping healthy food affordable ranked second, along with the cost of health care (up nine per cent) and energy (up five per cent).
But cheap food comes at a cost to farmers. They’re under constant pressure to produce food for as little money as possible.
So they look for savings wherever they can, keeping in mind their production practices must pass the sniff test with society. It’s fine to save money, but not at the expense of animal welfare or the environment. They need to find another way to do it.
Research helps. After five years of intensive study,
a lab at the University of Guelph led by Prof. Allan King has come up with an answer to some of the causes behind small pig litters and piglet deaths. And lately they’ve put a dollar figure to it.
They found that screening boars (male pigs) for a genetic abnormality called chromosome translocation that causes these prenatal piglet deaths and smaller litters is close to 5.30:1 – for every dollar invested, revenue increases by $5.30.
That translates to nearly $7,500 in a 500-sow herd. That’s significantly higher than the 3:1 return researchers estimated when they first identified the abnormality.
When farmers make more revenue, they can pass those savings into consumers by keeping the price of food down. It’s even better when those savings can be assisted by a relatively inexpensive lab test, rather than with additional equipment or something equally as costly.
The new research is contained in a report by Claudia Schmidt and Al Mussell at Guelph’s AgriFood Economic Systems. The savings they found are based on testing and totally screening out boars with the chromosome translocation, and reducing prenatal piglet loss, which can result in about 100 more piglets born per year.
The actual benefit per farm will depend on a variety of production factors, they say. The higher the gross margin per hog, the higher the return on investment for testing the boar.
But overall the savings are eye opening.
“Decreased fertility, through chromosomal abnormalities, can significantly reduce revenues and profitability of hog production,” they say.
The abnormality happens naturally, when cells divide and genes line up improperly. It can be passed on to subsequent generations and result in three or four fewer piglets per litter than normal. It’s easy to miss because boars affected by the abnormality show no outward signs of problems. That’s where screening comes in.
With support from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the Canada Research Chairs’ program and Guelph’s Department of Biomedical Sciences, King and his team have worked with pig producers for five years to assess the accuracy of their test.
Most recently, this research sparked a spin-off company by King, and research associate Kevin Kuschke, called Karyotekk Inc., created with help from the university’s Research Innovation Office.
Testing is carried out at the Ontario Veterinary College, in conjunction with Guelph’s Animal Health Laboratory. It’s one of a half-dozen labs worldwide testing for chromosome translocation.
King says the savings to producers are timely, as domestic consumption wanes and margins tighten even more.
“This testing procedure gives producers greater control over reproduction in their herds,” he says.