Smithfield gift supports research targeting swine health

Smithfield Foods gifts $1.4b to Virginia Tech to investigate methods to enhance swine well-being and production efficiency.

A $1.4 million gift from Smithfield Foods Inc. will support research studies in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture & Life Sciences and at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine that will investigate methods to enhance animal well-being and production efficiency in swine-rearing operations.

The contribution, which will be paid over three years, will fund three projects designed to improve health, reduce antibiotic use and find alternative production methods for growing pigs.

"We want to find the spaces where experts in academic research and experts in private agricultural research can intersect, merging pure scientific study with practical application," explained Terry Coffey, chief science and technology officer for the Smithfield Foods hog production division.

"Through our contributions to universities like Virginia Tech, we are directly engaging the academic experts who can drive industry innovations for issues that have not even been thought of yet — finding solutions that are proactive, not reactive," added Dennis Treacy, who serves as Smithfield's chief sustainability officer and oversees the Smithfield Foundation.

Treacy, who earned his bachelor's degree in forestry and wildlife in 1978 from what is now Virginia Tech's College of Natural Resources & Environment, also serves on the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.

One of the studies supported by the gift is led by William S. "Terry" Swecker Jr., a professor in the department of large animal clinical sciences at the veterinary college. It targets strategic intervention for swine influenza virus. Swine flu is easily spread and often leads to secondary infections that are costly to treat.

Mike Zhang, a professor of biological systems engineering in the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, heads a second study to explore the use of recombinant universal vaccines against porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS). The syndrome hinders reproduction and results in the loss of many pigs each year.

The third project is a study led by Nammalwar "Nathan" Sriranganathan, a professor of biomedical sciences and pathobiology at the veterinary college, that seeks to determine the viability of developing a recombinant vaccine to control boar taint, an offensive taste or odor that can affect pork made from male pigs.

"It is exciting to generate ideas and to see the opportunities for real application in the field," Sriranganathan said. "The Smithfield gift opens the door to the type of study that will generate an impact for consumers. It is inspiring to be a part of something with such potential."

Noting that the research projects will advance swine health, Cyril Clarke, dean of the veterinary college, said, "Such partnerships between industry and research universities are essential to control infectious diseases and secure a safe and wholesome food supply."

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