Animal nutrition, antibiotic use details in 2016 Smithfield Sustainability report

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis contact

- Last updated on GMT

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Related tags: Antibiotic, Ethanol fuel

Feed ingredients, antibiotic use and animal housing were all evaluated in work toward sustainability goals, says Smithfield Foods VP.

Smithfield Food’s 2016 Sustainability Report detailed the work the Virginia-based company has been doing in multiple areas, including animal care, to meet the goals of its sustainability program and was released in sections throughout May. The annual report has been released since 2001.

“This report allows us to evaluate our progress toward our sustainability program goals as well as share these updates with our external stakeholders including customers and consumers,” ​said Stewart Leeth, vice president of regulatory affairs and chief sustainability officer with Smithfield Foods.

“This provides further transparency of our operations,”​ he told FeedNavigator.

The overall goal of efforts in regards to animal care are to keep animals “safe, comfortable and healthy,”​ the company said. It is the largest hog producer in the world with about 891,000 sows in domestic production.

Report details and goals

When reviewing animal care work, the company has set several animal care targets, Smithfield said.

These include that facilities have a systematic way in which they meet the recommended animal handling guidelines from the North American Meat Institute and that farm divisions follow the company’s animal care management system, it said. Each farm division is expected to earn an “excellent”​ score in an annual audit on the system.

The company also seeks to maintain a US Department of Agriculture process verified program certification, it said. And, all live animal transporters need to have transport quality assurance certifications.

Additionally, the company is changing to only use group housing for pregnant sows by the end of 2017 for company-owned farms in the US and by 2022 for US contract farms and joint ventures internationally, it said.

That process was started in 2007, said Leeth. “As of December 2016, we have reached 87% progress toward our company-owned group housing system conversion goal and expect to reach 100% by the end of 2017,”​ he added.

“Group housing systems allow a small number of sows to be in a common open area once they are confirmed to be pregnant,” ​he said. “These systems typically include individual feeding stations, which help to minimize fighting among sows for feed.”

It also reports annually on antibiotics used, the company said.

Feeding trial

In the animal care section of the report, the company also outlined the results of studies done on feed ingredient use to ameliorate the behavior of pregnant sows, the company said.

There is some fighting among sows when they are placed in group pens, said the company. And, there can be competition during feeding time within the pens.

In 2016, the company examined different types of feeds to improve animal well-being and potentially reduce the aggression seen at feeding times, said Leeth. “We added more fiber to group-housed sow diets by using a byproduct of ethanol production called dried distillers grain with solubles (DDGS),”​ he added.

The idea behind the ingredient study was to see if adding larger amounts of fiber to sow diets would increase satiety and reduce aggression during feeding times, the company said.

“Although the DDGS did not reduce aggression, we learned that high volumes of DDGS may pose a health risk to the sows because of a fungus that can grow naturally on the corn in the field,” ​said Leeth. “We have now modified sow diets to ensure that our feed does not contain any DDGS, and at this time are continuing to evaluate our research and findings.”

Antibiotic use

The report also detailed the company’s antibiotic use considerations, including that though it does allow use of antibiotics, only those not used in human medicine can be fed or given to promote growth or feed efficiency, it said. It does feed or use both medically important and other types to prevent, control or treat disease.

“We report antibiotics totals for both our US and European farms based on the total active ingredient given to the pigs through feed, as well as via water and injections,” ​said Leeth. “For US farms in 2016, the total was 118 milligrams per pound. For European farms in 2016, the total was 128.7 milligrams per pound.”

In 2015 the amount used on farms in the US was 152 milligrams per pound and in 2014, the amount was 142 milligrams per pound, the company reported.

“Year by year, the amount of antibiotics used per pound may vary based on a wide variety of factors such as weather conditions, inventory decisions and active ingredient concentration,”​  said Leeth. “The number may also be impacted by the type of antibiotic or method used including feed, water or injection, [and] we also recently revised our antibiotics reporting period from fiscal to calendar year.”

In 2016, the company also gave $1.4m the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine to support research regarding the use of antibiotics alternatives in swine production, the company said.

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