Canadian hog farmers are increasingly moving away from using antibiotics in pork production. To keep animals healthy, they’re using alternatives like probiotics that can boost the immune system by promoting better gut health.
There are still a lot of unknowns about the impact that influencing the pig’s microbiome will have on the quality, safety and shelf life of pork products. That’s why Olymel, Canada’s largest pork producer and processor, is working with scientists from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Université Laval on research to gain a better understanding of the links between gut health, food safety and product quality.
“There is very little research on the microbiome and the impacts of using antibiotic alternatives in pork production,” explains Dr. Sylvain Fournaise, Olymel’s Vice President of Food Safety and Technical Services. “Food safety and public health are a top priority for Olymel so we are committed to doing everything we can to understand and control any potential risks.”
With resistance to antibiotics posing a growing threat to global public health, livestock farmers in Canada and other countries are looking for alternatives that will maintain the health, welfare and production efficiency of livestock without compromising food safety.
The project has three main objectives:
- Setting a baseline.
Through metagenomic testing, researchers will identify the bacteria and bacterial families found in different stages of the value chain in order to determine whether bacteria found in the processing environment or on pork products originate in the microbiome of the animals themselves, or in the production or processing environments.
- Evaluating impact on the gut.
Researchers will evaluate the effects of different probiotics on pig gut health and how the addition of probiotics combined with reduction of antibiotics influences the intestinal microbiome.
- Piglet health.
Researchers will compare the health and welfare of pigs raised in environments with different health statuses, with or without antibiotics and with or without probiotics, as well as evaluate the meat coming from these animals.
“Consumers today expect safe food and sustainable livestock production that respects both human health and animal welfare,” says Fournaise. “At Olymel, we are proud to produce high quality pork products that truly are feeding the world, and research like this is important to ensure we continue to be a global leader in this regard.”
Why is this innovation important?
FOOD SAFETY: Use of antibiotic alternatives in livestock production and a better understanding of the gut microflora improves the safety and quality of meat products.
HEALTH: Using antibiotic alternatives in pork production helps address global resistance concerns in both human and livestock health.
ANIMAL WELFARE: The microbiome is believed to strongly influence overall animal health and a healthy gut can help pigs better withstand disease.
What does this project mean to Canada’s food processing industry?
Replacing antibiotics with more sustainable alternatives will ensure food safety and quality and further minimize the risks associated with antibiotic use in livestock production, as well as confirming Canada’s leadership role in this area.
About Olymel S.E.C/L.P.
Olymel is one of Canada’s leaders in the production, processing and distribution of pork and poultry meats. The company, which employs over 15,000 people, has production and processing facilities in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan. Olymel exports to more than 65 countries and prides itself on the high quality of its products. Its brands include Olymel, Lafleur, Flamingo, Pinty’s, Tour Eiffel and more. www.olymel.ca
About the project team
Dr. Sylvain Fournaise is Vice President of Food Safety and Technical Services with Olymel S.E.C./L.P. He holds an MSc in food science and technology from Université Laval and a doctorate in veterinary medicine from the Université de Montréal.
Dr. Linda Saucier is professor and researcher in the Department of Animal Science at Université Laval. She has a PhD in microbiology from the University of Alberta and an MSc in food science and technology from Université Laval.
Dr. Guylaine Talbot is a research scientist in microbial ecology with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Sherbrooke Research and Development Centre. An adjunct professor at the Faculty of Science, Université de Sherbrooke, she has a PhD in Biochemistry from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Science at Université Sherbrooke.