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What's the difference between a U.K. pig and a U.S. pig?     Send a link to a friend

[JULY 3, 2004]  URBANA -- When it comes to pork production industries, pigs aren't necessarily the same worldwide, said a Scottish animal science lecturer and researcher at the University of Illinois during a weeklong course in pork production technology.

"There are a number of differences between the pork production systems in the United Kingdom and the United States," said Vernon Fowler of the University of Aberdeen. He was a presenter at the June 13-19 Advanced Swine Production Technology Course that attracted 22 students from the United States, Central and South America.

A major difference is the end product, he noted.

"The pork we market in the U.K. tends to be what you would call Canadian-style bacon, which is very often sold with skin on," he said. "Very little bacon is sold that way in the United States. To do this, our pigs have to be much leaner, and we slaughter those about 20 pounds lighter than pigs in the United States."

Boars are not usually castrated in U.K. swine operations, because the unaltered males tend to grow faster, finish leaner and develop more efficiently. However, the meat from these animals can sometimes have an odor that U.S. consumers find unappealing. In exchange for avoiding the odor, Fowler says, U.S. producers castrate males and lose a good deal of growth potential.

"The nature of the feed is another big difference," he said. "In the United States, the swine diet is pretty much tied to the corn-soybean economy of grain farming. We have a greater diversity of feeds in the United Kingdom. For example, instead of corn we might feed any one of three cereals -- wheat, barley, or oats. For soybeans, we might use rapeseed, and we also use quite a lot of peas and field beans."


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Swine production in the United Kingdom is also staged on a much smaller scale than in the United States.

"The largest unit in the United Kingdom might be one with 2,000 sows," he said. "That would be a small unit in the United States."

Population density in the United Kingdom also raises the stakes in the handling of swine waste.

"We have a very active 'green' lobby and a very active animal welfare lobby," he said. "Each has been successful in influencing regulations."

Swine producers in the United Kingdom, he said, are not allowed to use sow stalls, a common production technology in the United States.

"In the United Kingdom as well, producers do not have the ability to use as wide a range of antibiotics to promote growth as do U.S. producers," he said. "In fact, an antibiotic that promotes growth can only be used with a prescription by a veterinarian. In the United States, such antibiotics are widely used."

[University of Illinois news release]

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