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Consistency pays off

The Danes see themselves as pioneers in the modern production of meat in general and especially when it comes to the production of pork. This process, which began around 25 years ago, is now bearing concrete fruit in livestock production, where, for example, the use of antibiotics is steadily declining.

The reduction in the use of antibiotics began in 1994, when a clear separation was made between veterinary advice and the sale of antibiotics. Since the turn of the century, there has also been a ban on the use of performance-enhancing substances. For ten years, the Action Plan has been taking action to stop the use of so-called “reserve” antibiotics. In addition, farmers are issued a “yellow card” warning accompanied by sanctions as soon as excessive antibiotic consumption is detected.

In the meantime, consumers in Denmark have a choice between conventional meat, which is already produced under strict conditions, and pigs raised by GOA (breeded without antibiotics). The Danish concept was initiated by various institutions that have an influence on the production and distribution of food. The focus is on consumer health as well as animal welfare.

Better prevention

The GOA concept provides for the general abandonment of antibiotics when treating animals – from birth to slaughter. Prophylaxis is also a factor in avoiding the need for medication, with a focus on vaccinating animals and improving hygiene.

The animals are kept in stables which must be clean, dry and warm. The occupancy and emptying of a barn are always carried out completely according to the “All in – All out” scheme. If the barn is empty, it is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before re-occupation. In this way, a series of infections is to be rigorously interrupted and transports limited to the most necessary.

The project is carried out by the Danish Crown cooperative, which currently operates the largest pig slaughterhouse in Europe, which is located in Horsens. In Blans the company has 1,100 employees; its capacity is 38,000 pigs per week. Work is carried out five days a week with international participation. The employees in production come from 30 nations. The tasks are varied, the technology state-of-the-art.

At present, five percent of the animals are so-called “special pigs”, which include the GOA pigs. The antibiotic-free alternative has been marketed here for four years. There is great hope that soon, this type of farming will no longer be considered exotic. The production of more than 400,000 GOA pigs is planned for the current year. In 2021, GOA pigs are expected to account for ten percent of the volume. According to management, the confidence is justified: “We’ve got some farmers on hold for this.”

Strict conditions for GOA

And this, although the catalog of requirements seems rather strict. In addition to antibiotic-free rearing, plant-based feeding supplemented with milk and dairy products is also required. The feed must be sourced from certified suppliers. Special eartags identify the animal as a GOA pig and are removed as soon as treatment with antibiotics is necessary. After slaughter, the meat is identified by a special stamp. Furthermore, once a year the agricultural business undergoes an independent third-party inspection. Health management includes a clearly defined program for the treatment of any diseases or parasites that may occur.

When rearing the animals, farmers pay more attention to the fact that the pigs are spared infections and can develop in as species-appropriate a manner as possible. Underfloor heating in the farrowing stables is not uncommon and when it gets too warm in summer, there is an optimally tempered, refreshing shower for the ­animals.

For farmers, the higher revenue per pig is attractive and worth the increased risk compared to conventional rearing methods, which were characterized by strategic treatment with drugs.

Advantages through sustainability

Denmark’s leading position as a European meat producer means that Danish suppliers have a duty to offer more than their European competitors in terms of technology and sustainability. Production figures are three times as high as domestic consumption, so it is important to be attractive to customers in every respect, even as an exporter. The framework consists of around 2,000 pig producers and 32 million pigs a year, as does the export of 15 million live pigs.

According to Danish Crown, everything is now being done to consistently take a leading position in the use of the whole animal. For Jakob Sögaard (Danish Crown) this also means the obligation to develop a role model function when it comes to animal welfare and technology at every stage of production and processing. For example, slaughterhouses use CO2 when stunning pigs. The advantages are seen in the fact that gentle stunning in a group is possible in comparison to electric stunning. The high-quality yardsticks foresee that the animals are not driven and that there is no compulsion. In view of consumer trends, however, it is also necessary to rethink traditional methods of husbandry and processing and to subject them regularly to verification, during which every step from the field to the meal is scrutinized, even ones that have been established for generations. The conclusion of the last years is therefore: “There’s still room for meat on the consumer’s plate – albeit less than usual.”

Consideration of the CO2-footprint produced on the way from piglet to ham has consequences. The transport of meat to Italian customers was shifted from trucks to rail. The declared goal is to make the production chain sustainable by 2030. The planning also includes returning most of the plastic packaging used for meat at self-service counters to the packaging cycle.

According to the Danish researchers, climate-neutral meat production can be an opportunity for smaller agricultural countries. According to the Association for Agriculture and Food, climate neutrality does not develop on its own, but is feasible and profitable in the long term through the use of new technologies.

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