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money or expensive equipment," Dr Blackall says.
"We also provide quality control reagents to these
laboratories from Australia to help ensure the
ongoing calibration of the diagnostic tests."
Among the introduced technology is a
protocol that has worked well in Australia called
'lung scoring'. This technique involves taking the
opportunity to examine pig lungs for signs of past
infections through regular slaughterhouse visits.
"This can be a very informative way to monitor
health issues across many farms," Dr Blackall says.
"We set up this system in the Philippines and it is
now being widely adopted through the national
meat inspection system."
Along the way, it helped resolve a longstanding
curiosity---that respiratory disease is a bigger
problem for the intensive pig industry in the
Philippines than it is for smallholder producers.
The finding was made by a well-designed
epidemiological study undertaken by the
Philippine team members.
The results did not surprise Dr Blackall:
"Respiratory disease is generally a problem when
you put a large number of pigs together."
The Australian pig industry has also benefited
from this ACIAR project. Among the major
problematic respiratory diseases affecting
Australian pigs are porcine pleuropneumonia
(caused by Actinobacillus pleuropneumoniae) and
Glasser's disease (caused by Haemophilus parasuis).
The disease-causing bacteria cause significant
economic losses in Australia and indeed wherever
pigs are intensively raised. Dr Blackall's laboratory
in Brisbane serves as an international diagnostic
reference centre for both of these bacteria and
tests samples sent from around the world.
The relationships with the Philippines proved
instrumental in advancing the control of both
diseases through the development of improved
diagnostic tests to guide vaccination programs. In
addition, improved methods to detect resistance
in the bacteria to antimicrobial agents have been
developed and are used to identify the most
effective treatment options and help prevent the
continued emergence of antimicrobial resistance.
Central to these efforts was a young
veterinarian from a regional laboratory in the
Philippines, Dr Denise Dayao, who received her
PhD in Dr Blackall's laboratory with the support of
ACIAR's John Allwright Fellowship program.
Dr Dayao used molecular biology technologies
to provide---for the first time---an understanding
of the genes that drive acquisition of antimicrobial
resistance in respiratory pathogens in Australian
pigs. She sequenced the genomes of important
bacteria and used that information to explain the
pattern of resistance seen in piggeries. Importantly,
Dr Dayao also validated a laboratory test for
International recognition of the significance of
her work has followed. A 'ring test' was initiated in
which the technology is transferred to laboratories
in Australia, Europe and the United States to show
that the method holds up against all the different
respiratory bacteria isolated from pigs around
As these data accumulate, they create the basis
for a standardised international protocol that all
the diagnostic laboratories around the world can
use. "Her work was so important that we received
funding from the Australian pig industry to pay for
the operating costs of Denise's research," Dr Blackall
says. "Most importantly, Denise has now brought
back the new technical skills she learnt to the
Philippines. I hope that her knowledge and expertise
will spread through the government system to
improve laboratory capacity in the Philippines."
Additionally, a vaccine manufacturer that works
closely with Dr Blackall was so impressed with the
research findings from the ACIAR project that it
opted to set up operations in the Philippines. The
company's facility is being built near one of the
ACIAR project sites and is tapping into the project's
network of relationships with government
"The company aims to provide a support
service for the Philippine pig industry that does
not exist at the moment," Dr Blackall says. "Vaccines
are an alternative to antimicrobials and the more
they are used---guided by sound diagnostic
information---the less pressure there is to use
antimicrobials. As a result, there is less resistance
and less negative impact of antimicrobials on the
pigs themselves and on the environment. That's a
good outcome for the pig industry."
With so many benefits flowing to both partner
countries, ACIAR decided to build on the
relationship and launch a second project with
broader aims. The new project is participatory,
based on a strong knowledge of the smallholder
farm system, with research questions set by
the farmers. The researchers hope to use their
expertise to identify simple changes to key
production factors--- such as nutrition and animal
housing---that can make a big difference to the
pigs and to household livelihoods.
Although the focus appears to be on the
smallholder farming system, Dr Blackall predicts
there will also be important outcomes for the
Australian pig industry in the second project. He
explains that demand is growing in Australia for
free-range pork, poultry and eggs. This requires
production systems that, in many ways, resemble
the practices of Asian smallholder producers.
However, as more pigs in Australia return to
being reared outside, there is a change in types
and prevalence of disease. Dr Blackall explains that
the practice introduced in the 1950s of rearing
pigs and poultry indoors coincided with a decline
in a range of diseases. Those diseases are now
making a comeback, piggybacking on changes in
"We now have to look 'back to the future'
to learn how to control diseases that we thought
had been eliminated," Dr Blackall says. "In my
view that makes ACIAR increasingly relevant in
Australia because the problems are now much
the same whether you are a smallholder farmer in
the Philippines or a free-range pig farmer
in Australia." n
ACIAR PROJECT: AH/2012/066 'Improving the
production and competitiveness of Australian and
Philippines pig production through better health and
MORE INFORMATION: Dr Pat Blackall, Queensland
Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation,
A farm visit at Barangay,
"THE PROBLEMS ARE NOW
MUCH THE SAME WHETHER
YOU ARE A SMALLHOLDER
FARMER IN THE PHILIPPINES
OR A FREE-RANGE PIG
FARMER IN AUSTRALIA."
-- Dr Pat Blackall
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