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No Magic Bullets, But Pork Industry Research Builds Toward Future Solutions

National Hog Farmer has a long tradition of delivering research-based information targeted specifically for our pork producer readers. Our December issue, arriving in your mailboxes soon and posted on the website, is devoted to the most-current research published within the last year to help support our industry. I always feel really good when reading through the many submissions each year. There are a lot of great minds working hard to solve many of the challenges pork producers are facing.

Sometimes these technical papers are not necessarily “light reading,” and require some additional interpretation. It’s always good to keep the results of each study in perspective, too. It may take a series of methodically done studies to reach a practical conclusion that can eventually be put to work in producers’ barns. I’m frequently in awe of the one-step-at-a-time approach researchers take to finding the real take-home points for our producer readers.

An intriguing research report was recently released by Iowa State University looking at a method to provide piglets with a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) though sow’s milk when the piglets nurse. The study demonstrated the successful transfer of meloxicam in sow’s milk while also measuring piglet pain levels during castration and tail docking by using a thermal imaging technique. While the headlines on this story may lead some folks to believe we can simply give piglets an aspirin now and go about our business, the reality is that this study provides a solid foundation for further research, but the true “magic bullet” has not been found quite yet.

The researchers are quick to point out that there are presently no validated and approved drug regimens to alleviate pain in swine. Meloxicam is an injectable NSAID that is approved for swine in the European Union and Canada for several conditions, including the relief of post-operative pain with minor soft tissue surgery. “When injected before piglet castration, meloxicam reduces serum cortisol concentrations,” explained Jessica Bates, DVM, the lead researcher on this project. “It also has been shown to reduce behavioral signs that are associated with piglet distress at castration.” She also pointed out to the recent Iowa State University Swine Disease Conference attendees that administration of meloxicam to swine constitutes extra-label drug use at the present time. Under the Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act (AMDUCA), extra-label drug use is permitted under veterinary supervision when specific conditions are met. In the absence of U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved analgesic compounds in food animals, the use of oral meloxicam tablets for the alleviation of pain or stress in swine can be considered in AMDUCA for research purposes, but is not approved, nor fine-tuned for widespread use.

“It is imperative to remember that the dose of oral meloxicam in this study was extrapolated from data from other species for proof of transfer (in the milk),” Bates said. “Pharmacokinetic analyses are pending and will help in making further conclusions about the effective dose. However, at this time, the dose used in this study cannot be recommended in commercial swine operations because of the lack of tissue residue data.”

Promising results, but not quite ready for “Prime Time.” I'm looking forward to watching researchers continue to build upon this initial step toward investigating pain mitigation methods. Read about this fascinating research project in a story, “Researchers Deliver Pain Medication to Piglets Through Sow’s Milk,” on our website.

Look for even more research write-ups on the website and in upcoming issues of our magazine.

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