China to create pigs that grow faster and ‘produce’ more babies

Humans are holding very small baby pigs to give them ear tags, animal news
Employees give newborn piglets ear tags at a breeding farm of Best Genetics Group (BGG), China February 27, 2022, credit: Reuters/Tingshu Wang

China’s pig breeders want to genetically modify pigs to grow faster with less food and ‘produce’ more babies. Around 100 farms have registered for a state-led bid to change the genetics of pigs to create cheaper meat.

President Xi Jinping called for self-sufficiency in food, with the focus recently turning to the genetics of farm animals.

China is the world’s top consumer of pig meat -China kills almost 700 million pigs per year- and now it wants to become less dependent on pigs from other countries.

“All our breeding pigs were imported from abroad. For many farms, the breeding herd will have degenerated within three years after importing, and it won’t have achieved any genetic progress,” Hao Wenjie, head breeder at Best Genetics Group (BGG), told news agency Reuters.

“Europeans may decide this type of pig is the best according to their eating habits, understanding of pigs and market conditions. However, this type of pig may not necessarily be the best in China because our food culture and environment are not the same, so our definition of a good pig is also different,” Wenjie said.

“Basically, the genetic progress that we make is driven by economics, so try to reduce the cost price of producing a kilo of pork, that’s the goal,” Jan Merks, owner of Genetics’ Added Value in the Netherlands and consultant at BGG, said.

He explained that it’s possible to genetically modify pigs to gain weight faster with less food and have more babies, but it’s also challenging since China, unlike Western companies, has little expertise in that area.

Fast genetic progress requires data collection and analysis, and not many managers in China have the experience to design and implement such collection.

“People working in the sector [in China] have very little experience because they have been working there just for a few years. And that’s, I think for me and other Western concerns, is the big difference — we can bring many years of experience,” Merks said.

“I think it’s very challenging to reach that goal, but like with every goal you want to reach, it’s not only a matter how difficult the goal is, but how much people and money and skills and technology you have available to reach that goal,” Merks said, adding that “China in general can do a lot if they want it.”

To collect data, BGG cuts off tiny pieces of ear tissue of piglets who are only a few hours old. They also collect daily data on litter size, loin depth, and weight gain.

In 2012, BGG bought 1,200 purebred female pigs to experiment on from the Canadian company Genesus, which supplies breeding pigs.

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