19 May 2000

Try a little tenderness to secure customer loyalty

Boosting UK sales of pig and

poultry products were key

themes at this years Pig

and Poultry Fair, held at

Stoneleigh, Warks. The

FW livestock team report

CONSISTENTLY producing tender pork, which encourages consumers to repeat-buy joints, may increase demand for pigmeat.

MLC livestock and meat science manager, Chris Warkup told delegates at a Pig and Poultry Fair, Talking pigs seminar that improving meat quality without increasing costs was possible.

Quality starts with what meat looks like and reducing fat depth to appeal to consumers has been successful. "Compared with 1987 we are producing 11% more lean meat a pig. This has also reduced production costs."

The occurrence of pale soft exudative meat had also been minimised by genetic selection and reducing slaughter stress, he added.

But tenderness is an important issue which needs addressing by producers and abattoirs, even though pork accounts for only 25% of the pigmeat market; worth 21% of the value of total sales.

"The things that drive consumer acceptability are the tenderness, flavour and juiciness of meat: Tenderness is the main issue and our biggest problem."

Some of the variation in tenderness that existed now, was explained by calpastatin, a muscle inhibitor, said Mr Warkup.

But MAFF and MLC funded research at the University of Nottingham has found that feeding pigs ad lib for just the last two weeks of finishing can reduce calpastatin levels in meat and improve tenderness.

High calpastatin levels were also caused by reduced growth rates and chronic stress; competing for food at the trough could cause such stress, he believed.

Although there are still some unanswered questions about calpastatin, there are some things producers can do to reduce it: "Exploiting the potential pigs have for growth will help; there is a large gap between growth rates achieved and animal potential."

He also advised tackling chronic disease; ensuring feeding regime and diet are appropriate and avoiding stress, such as frequent mixing.

But improving tenderness meant getting everything right, from conception to consumer, he said. "If a pig leaves the farm tough there is nothing the abattoir can do to make it tender."

On farm, breeding and feeding can also improve tenderness.

Ad-lib feeding produced more tender meat than restricted feeding, he said. "More than 50% of pigs are fed ad lib these days. But the genotype and market must be suitable to allow this."

Crossing white pigs with a Duroc also increased meat tenderness. And when producers fed a 50% Duroc pig ad lib, tenderness increased by 12-14%, he said.

But a price premium of 2.5p/kg is needed for Duroc pigs to compensate for their higher natural level of fatness, which means poorer feed efficiency. Extra care is also needed to ensure grading specs are met. But he hopes improvements within the Duroc breed are beginning to improve their efficiency.

Pig management may also improve pigmeat flavour. Boar taint, caused by skatole, was not a major problem. But for some consumers it was significant, he said.

Skatole was known to be present in faeces and may be absorbed back through the skin, he said. "Keeping pigs clean can help reduce skatole levels, so provide clean lying and wallowing areas." &#42

A muscle inhibitor – calpastatin – explains some variation in meat tenderness, says Chris Warkup.

TENDER PORK

&#8226 Duroc beneficial.

&#8226 Ad lib feed.

&#8226 Minimise stress.

Mick McGurk demonstrates measuring meat tenderness at the fair.