Happy pig, healthy meal? U of S prof heads unit to sniff out well-being of swine

The federal government is giving the university more than $800,000 to study whether improving the quality of life of farmed pigs could lead to improved quality of meat.

Feds give more than $800K to study whether good quality of life could improve quality of meat

The federal government has announced new funding to help the University of Saskatchewan study the well-being of pigs. (Norma Jean McPhee/CBC)

An assistant professor at Saskatoon's University of Saskatchewan just got fed a healthy dose of cash to help her study the well-being of farm pigs.

"Where we're trying to get with it is developing systems that can … actually bring good quality of life for the animals and enhance the beneficial production characteristics simultaneously," said Yolande Seddon of the university's Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

On Wednesday, federal Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Ralph Goodale announced $4.5 million in funding for six research projects at the university.

The subjects span everything from sleep apnea among First Nations people to improving the chances of survival for people with breast cancer.

Seddon and a team of 17 others are getting $837,750 to study factors that may improve the well being of pigs.   

Pigs are like people

Seddon likened pigs to people in some respects. 

"If you feel a little down and depressed, you maybe get sick. If you have a death in the family, and you're pretty stressed, you generally get a cold," said Seddon. 

"There's some fascinating research to suggest that if we are providing an optimal environment for the animal, and if we actually give the animal cognitive enrichments so it has a reward from finishing a puzzle, for example, we can actually have an improved immune response.

Yolande Seddon, an assistant professor at the university's Western College of Veterinary Medicine, will head up the pig research project. (Matthew Garand/CBC)

"We actually have good synergies to suggest that what could be good for the animal will meet other industry goals to reduce antibiotic use and improve meat quality," said Seddon.

Companies in the Canadian pork industry matched the government's investment, with the university throwing in $305,000 of its own money.