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Denmark as a role model

Danish pork producers are known worldwide for food safety. The country has been a pioneer in the sustainable reduction of antibiotic use and salmonella control for years.

Pork from Denmark is in demand all over the world. The industry scores with its trading partners around the globe not only with consistently high product quality but also with the standards it sets for food safety, transparency and traceability. In the current report, “Tackling Antimicrobial Use and Resistance in Pig Production. Lessons Learned in Denmark”, published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the World (FAO), the country’s far-reaching commitment is accordingly praised. In the report, the United Nations Organization stresses the industry’s exemplary role in the sustainable reduction of antibiotic consumption and methods of handling antibiotic resistance. Among other things, the FAO report highlights the efficient epidemic control by Danish farmers, their comprehensive preventive measures and the unique animal health system SPF (Specific Pathogen Free).

“This recognition confirms the dedication of our farmers and veterinarians, who continue to make great progress in pig production,” says Erik Larsen, Chairman of Pig Production in the Danish Association of Agriculture & Food. Larsen hopes that the progress achieved will also encourage the international pork sector to take even more decisive action. “Antibiotic resistance is a global challenge that must also be tackled at the global level,” said the Chairman.

Further decline in antibiotic use

The data on antibiotic consumption published by the Danish Trade Association support the FAO’s assessment. According to the study, pig farms in the country were able to reduce antibiotic doses by 18 percent between 2014 and 2018. A dose is the amount of active substance administered to treat 1 kg of pork. The total amount of antibiotics used in the industry fell by 13 percent over the same period. The industry has achieved this, among other things, by optimizing operational management and further improving animal health status.

The GOA program, established in 2015 by the Danish Crown cooperative company in close cooperation with the SEGES Danish Pig Research Centre in the Danish Association of Agriculture & Food Management and various research institutions, is also on the road to success. The letters stand for “grown without antibiotics”. In recent years, the production of GOA pork has steadily increased. In 2018, the company slaughtered 285,000 animals. Further farmers will join the GOA program this year. The declared goal is raising 1.5 million completely antibiotic-free pigs annually by 2021.

Salmonella control at all levels

Another supporting pillar is the salmonella control program established more than 20 years ago in the Danish pork sector. This fully integrated monitoring system covers all links in the production chain. In other words: All pig herds in the country are continuously checked for salmonella and the results stored in a central database. Ten blood samples per pig farm are analyzed each month. If the index calculated based on the results exceeds 5, the inspectors take additional stall samples to determine the type of salmonella. Based on the sample results, the farms are then classified as either A, B or C.

  • Category A farms show no evidence of salmonella.
  • Category B farms are those in which salmonella has been detected. The types of salmonella, however, are unproblematic for the herds, and human infections are as good as unknown.
  • Group C farms include those where Salmonella Typhimurium, Infantis or Derby types have been detected.

Pig farms are also under continuous technical surveillance. Controls are carried out using meat juice samples, which are taken at slaughterhouses and analyzed for salmonella antibodies. An index is then calculated based on the results obtained. If it is over 65, the experts classify the fattening farm as level 3. Pigs from this herd are slaughtered separately under special hygiene precautions.

Index values between 40 and 65 correspond to level 2. Agricultural holdings classified at levels 2 and 3 receive a lower price for their fattening pigs. This is intended to motivate producers to rapidly control their salmonella problems. In Denmark, one to 1.5 percent of fattening farms are at level 3 and two to three percent at level 2. This means that over 95 percent of pig herds in Denmark have no problems with salmonella.

Danish sow herds are also inspected regularly. The procedure corresponds to that in the breeding and propagation stage. The monitoring of sow herds is risk-based. If a group A sow farm sends animals to a fattening farm that is subsequently classified at level 2 or 3, samples will be taken to determine whether the salmonella contamination came from the sow herd.

The decades-long consistent control of salmonella in the production of poultry, eggs, pork and beef has long since borne fruit in Denmark. According to the latest annual zoonoses report, human salmonellosis cases are currently at their lowest level since the late 1980s. Thanks to the Danish Salmonella Control Program, the number of human salmonella infections has been reduced by more than 95 percent in recent years.

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