12 May 2000

No need to fear lean meat measurements

By Marianne Curtis

PIG producers have nothing to fear from payment based on lean meat measurements, and it could prove an advantage over P2 classification.

Continental pig producers are paid based on percentage lean, whereas UK producers are paid on P2 fat depth and carcass weight, says MLC meat technology unit manger Michael Owen.

"Even though P2 is a measure of fat depth it is still used as a predictor of percentage lean, so UK producers are being paid on this basis indirectly," he says.

But Mr Owen admits that carcass classification is a confusing issue. "Where more than 200 pigs a week are killed it is mandatory to have a classification scheme in place."

There are five EU approved techniques for classification, although only three are regularly used either here or on the Continent. These include the optical probe – the most common method used in the UK – which measures P2 fat depth; the Hennessey probe and the Fat-o-meter, both of which measure fat and muscle depth and are used on the Continent.

"Everything is in place here for producers to be paid based on lean meat percentage but they are fearful of this concept, thinking it may disadvantage them," says Mr Owen.

But payment based on P2 fat depth may be disadvantageous in some cases, he adds.

"Producers consistently hitting top grades will not be losing out, however, supposing that P2 12mm is the top grade and a pig has a P2 of 13mm, this may result in a deduction of several p/kg.

"With payment based on lean meat percentage the difference between grades in payment terms would be more gradual."

Knowledge of lean meat percentage could also be used for genetic improvement but there may be limits to the desirability of high muscle depths, he warns.

"Eye muscle could become too deep for retailers. Bacon is sold by weight and sliced 4-5mm thick so it comes out crispy when fried. Supposing muscle became too deep, bacon would need to be sliced thinner to achieve optimum pack weights. This may make it less attractive to consumers."

But Dalehead Foods, based in Linton, Cambs, is keen to progress payments based on lean meat percentage, says procurement executive Rick Sanderson.

"We feel lean meat percentage is a fairer way to judge the value of a pig to us. Progressive producers seem keen on this payment method and it also supplies more information for breed improvement, rather than just concentrating on a pigs fat level.

"Currently we need to invest in the technology to implement this payment method, so we need to prove that it will increase returns. It is difficult to give a time scale for when we will use it."

It is likely that a proportion of payment will be based on P2 measurements and a proportion on lean meat percentage. But pigs can sometimes be too lean, warns Mr Sanderson.

"A thin layer of fat can cause problems. There is a shortage of pork fat in the UK which means some has to be imported."

Pigs with insufficient fat cover may also create processing difficulties, says Mr Owen. "Separation of fat can occur where depth falls below 8mm. But pigs which have been poor doers also give rise to poorer quality meat than naturally lean pigs grown quickly." &#42

Measuring lean meat could

have advantages over the

P2 system currently used in

the UK.

LEANMEATPAYMENTS

&#8226 Not used in UK.

&#8226 Fairer for producers.

&#8226 Pigs too lean?