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Pigs scavenging on waste (Hoffmann; FAO)

Pigs and Public Health Risks


A number of risks to human health arising from the pig production chain must be considered. Close contact between people and their animals, inevitable in all production systems, provides opportunities for pathogens to cross from pigs to humans and vice versa. Special attention must be given to viruses with pandemic potential such as Influenza A, which have been shown to exploit the pig as a mixing vessel from which new recombinants can emerge.

The widespread use of antibiotics, especially in the commercial pig sector, creates problems of antibiotic residues in pork products and leads to concerns regarding the consequent development of antibiotic resistance.

The consumption of unsafe pork carries a series of risks. Diseases such as trichinellosis and cysticercosis are identified as “poverty-related” because they are predominant in extensive and low-input pig production systems with poor sanitation and hygiene. Food poisoning resulting from Escherichia coli or Salmonella ssp., for example, is not confined to any particular production system and is therefore a global concern. Another concern is the emergence of pathogens of increased virulence such as some strains of Streptococcus suis, which cause severe illness and even death in humans.

To reduce the health threats of pork consumption, food-safety measures must be implemented. All along the production chain from making pig feed to the processes of slaughter, processing and retail, there are critical control points that must be addressed to achieve acceptable levels of consumer protection. Regulated slaughter processes and mandatory meat inspection before pork becomes available to the public are efficient measures, but they are difficult to implement in the context of subsistence-driven pig production. Awareness-raising, public education as to the main risks and simple measures to prevent negative impacts on human health must be seen as priorities.