What Have We Learned from 50 Years of Making Bacon?

( Jennifer Shike, Farm Journal's PORK )

Prediction is very difficult, especially if it is about the future.

Max Rothschild, distinguished professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University, shared this quote by Niels Bohr during the opening session of the National Swine Improvement Federation meeting on Thursday in Indianapolis. 

Though it’s challenging to predict the future, Rothschild shared his perspective in a “From Genetics to Genomics: Making Bacon for 50 Years” talk in what he jokingly referred to as part of his “farewell speaking tour.”

“The future of animal breeding and genetics is promising. With sensors, cameras and evolving technology, precision pork production will allow even greater leaps in this research,” Rothschild says. 

These visual technologies not only provide pork producers with a variety of data that can address health, reproduction and feeding issues, but they can also shed light on new opportunities to examine genetic control. 

“Our competition is China,” he says. “They are collecting data on everything from people to animals to buying things. Data are the real wealth – having that information is key.”

The ability to capture large amounts of data continues to grow and requires greater understanding of how to use the data properly and be able to combine that information into decision making.

Rothschild says it’s also important to understand the biology and production of the pig and encourages the next generation of scientists to make sure they are spending time in the barn, too. 

“Data are meaningless if you don’t understand the organism,” he says.

Genetic opportunities ahead
Health is the biggest challenge and opportunity for animal genomics, according to Rothschild. He believes these “designer health plans for specific genotypes” could hold great value for the industry.

“We should be talking about specific vaccinations and treatment regimes for specific lines and genetic products to produce specific products for special environments,” Rothschild says. “We ought to be talking about this in pig production as well and producing vaccine-ready pigs.” 

Although he says he doesn’t know if gene-edited pigs will be approved, he thinks they should be and hold great potential for the future of swine production. 

In order to best meet the changing needs of the pork industry, he encourages people to think a little differently and “outside the box.”

“Our business is to dream about pig production, but what we really should be dreaming about is food production,” he says.

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