09 September 1999
Lean means anorexia to pigs

THE publics taste for lean meat has created a new breed of anorexic pigs, according to John Owen, a scientist working at the University of Wales.

A small proportion of pigs, mainly sows, develop a condition in which they do not eat enough to maintain their body weight, are hyperactive and do not go on heat.

The condition, called thin sow syndrome, has some similarities to anorexia.

Anorexic pigs have been treated with a drug that raises levels of the mood chemical serotonin in the brain. Similar drugs seem to help people with anorexia.

Mr Owen believes that thin sow syndrome is the result of breeding designed to produce very lean pigs to meet modern tastes in meat.

The breeding has uncovered recessive genes, linked to leanness and susceptibility to stress, he says.

The way pigs are kept can accentuate the problem.

Thin sows living in groups with other pigs who compete for food are likely to become thinner still.