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'Fat equals flavour' - Young NPA debates issues around meat eating quality

9th Dec 2016 / By Alistair Driver

The thorny issues of pork eating quality and the challenge of ensuring the product matches consumers’ evolving expectations were discussed at the Young NPA National event in London, on Thursday.

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L to R: Mark Hayward, Caroline Kealey, Dan Day of A-One Feed Supplements, which sponsored the event, Gavin Hodgson and Emma Macdonald 

At a well-attended event that covered all the bases, from farm to retailer, speakers and the audience grappled with what the industry could do collectively to improve the product as it competes with other meats, notably chicken, while consumers increasingly seek easy-to-prepare convenience meals.

Caroline Kealey, director of meat science at JSR, stressed that all parts of the chain had a part to play, with the consumer being the most important figure in the picture. Educating the public about how to cook pork properly, and in particular to avoid overcooking pork, is something that mustn't be overlooked, she said.

Among the key insights from her presentation, Caroline highlighted research showing increasing intramuscular fat levels significantly improved the acceptability of pork for consumers.

“Fat equals flavor,” she said, endorsing calls by AHDB Pork for a shift in the pork pricing mechanism away from incentivising low back fat levels towards promoting traits that improve eating quality.

She also addressed the issue of boar taint, insisting the worst thing a processor could do with tainted pork was to cure it.

The problem in the UK is being exacerbated by imports from Denmark, where a leading official has openly admitted to a policy of exporting boar taint-infected pork to the UK and Germany, Caroline added. The UK market is being used as a ‘dumping ground’ for this inferior product, she said.

The focus on boar taint inevitably prompted a discussion on the pros and cons of Improvac. The room was fairly evenly divided between those who saw it as the obvious solution to the problem, and one accepted in other countries, and those who feared a possible public backlash and pointed to supply chain reluctance to accept it.

The secrets behind Dingley Dell's success

In an entertaining and thought-provoking presentation, Mark Hayward of Dingley Dell Pork outlined his farm’s transformation from struggling intensive producer 14 years ago to a supplier of high quality pork to some of the biggest names in the foodservice sector.

He said: “I am not a pig producer. One day I thought to myself: ‘Am I a pig producer? No I am not, I am a food producer’. That changed my thoughts on everything. I thought I am producing food. That’s what we do as farmers so taste should be our number one priority.

“We should be thinking about taste because we need to be creating our own markets.”

Mark outlined how he had worked with Caroline to focus his breeding, using a 75 per cent Duroc cross, and management of pigs to produce animals with high levels of intramuscular fat, which went down well in the markets he supplied. “We wanted to greatly increase our IMF.”

He explained how he strives for high welfare, driven by excellent stockmanship, and high environmental standards.

But, expressing frustration that chicken was now more expensive than pork in some outlets, he added: “Animal welfare standards are quite important but taste is the be all and end all.”

Whole supply chain approach 

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The event in Westminster was attended by more than 50 YNPA members

Gavin Hodgson, agricultural manager for pork at Sainsbury’s, stressed that a ‘whole supply chain’ approach was needed to tackle the issues raised at the event and also highlighted the need to put the customer first.

He said the UK pig industry was operating in a volatile and quick-moving global market, characterised by rapid pace of change. It needed to collectively ‘stop and think’ about whether we could be doing things better, rather than doing things ‘because that is how we have always done them’.

He urged the industry not to be afraid of failing in striving to be innovative and break the mould.

Emma Macdonald, of Devenish, explained how the Irish feed nutrition company had worked with Waitrose to produce chickens rich in Omega 3 for benefits to human health.

She said Devenish was working on doing something similar with pigs. Enriching meat in this way makes it possible to target the increasingly health-conscious consumer, and command a premium at the same time.

NPA senior policy Georgina Crayford, who organised the event, said she was delighted with the turn out and the quality of speakers and debate. “It is very encouraging to see young people so engaged with the big issues of the day.”

The afternoon conference, sponsored by A-One Feed Supplements, was followed by a meal for Young NPA members in Leicester Square.

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