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New Boar Taint Website Launched

by 5m Editor
2 April 2009, at 12:57pm

GLOBE - Now, more than ever, the journey of meat from its source to the dinner table is in the spotlight. Across the globe, consumers are acting on the knowledge that their Sunday roast did not begin life on the supermarket shelf. Indeed, it is the early stages of food production, from reproduction to growth development and slaughter, which are not only under public scrutiny, but are also shaping the all-powerful purchasing trends of consumers.

Producers now have to balance quality, price and animal welfare in order to keep the buying public happy. Consumers want a quality product, at a reasonable price and, increasingly, with the reassurance that it has been produced in an animal friendly way. One aspect of pig production which impacts on all three of these factors is boar taint - the offensive odour or taste that some people experience during the cooking or eating of pork or pork products.

The traditional method of controlling boar taint in male pigs – physical castration – has been banned in some markets and is under pressure in many others. Producing tainted meat is not an option – so a commercially viable alternative has to be found. Not surprisingly, the control of boar taint has become an important issue for all those in the pork supply chain, from vets and farmers to processors, retailers and consumers.

However, anyone searching the web for information on ‘boar taint’ will be sadly disappointed with the results. Until now, that is. The recent launch of a new global website, will help to address the lack of information that has been available on this key area of swine production.

The new site carries a wealth of information about boar taint and highlights the fact that the pork industry goes to great lengths to make sure that consumers do not experience tainted meat. Developed by Pfizer Animal Health, the site aims to tackle some of the issues surrounding boar taint and the methods used to control it.

Pfizer Animal Health’s Associate Director, Global Development, John Crane, said a significant reason for the site’s development was the growing interest in food production from consumers and industry stakeholders.

“The website is designed as a global resource for anyone who wants to find out more about boar taint. This may be a consumer who is eager to know what has happened to their meat before it arrives on the plate, or a producer looking to change his production methods,“ he said.

“To date, most producers have regarded physical castration as the only way to meet consumer expectations for taint-free pork. But as this traditional management tool has received criticism in recent years, some producers and producer associations are seeking alternative methods to control boar taint,“ Mr Crane added.

“In this time of change, it’s important that there is a comprehensive, informative resource that stakeholders can turn to for further background.“

As with many aspects of food production, consumers are generally unaware of the methods used to ensure pork meat remains taint free. In fact, it’s highly likely that the bacon rashers eaten at the breakfast table, or the pork cutlets on the dinner plate, came from a pig that was castrated at a young age, along with 95 per cent of the world’s male pig population.

In some countries (for example Holland, Switzerland and Norway) it is becoming common to use general or local anaesthesia to reduce the pain and stress associated with physical castration. The rules on whether this is compulsory or voluntary, and on whether farmers or veterinarians normally carry out the procedure, differ by country. The effectiveness of anaesthesia depends on the drug and technique used, and the process is often time-consuming and labour-intensive.

But scientists have spent years looking for more efficient and animal friendly alternatives to the knife. Boartaint.com describes some of the alternatives that have been investigated and in particular the use of a vaccine to control boar taint. Information about how the vaccine works, affects growth rates and ensures consumer safety is also available online. The website includes video footage and comments from experts and the results of market research among consumers.

Professor Dr Rico Thun is one of the swine experts referenced on the site. Dr Thun sees major advantages in the use of the new vaccine to control boar taint in comparison to physical castration, even with anaesthesia. "The immunological product is effective, reliable, practical as well as animal-friendly and currently the best alternative to prevent boar taint,“ he said.

Other industry experts on the website include the UK’s pig veterinarian consultant, Dr. John Mackinnon, Professor Frank Dunshea of Australia’s University of Melbourne, and Professor Michael E. Dikeman, Department of Animal Science and Industry, Kansas State University.

Mr Crane said: “With consumers keen to know more and producers naturally sceptical of anything that changes traditional practice, the more information available the more well-informed people can be.

“Boartaint.com contains a wealth of information for those who would like to know more about how pork is produced and the steps being taken to create a more efficient, animal friendly and sustainable industry on a global basis. As well as English, the site is available in nine different languages.“