by SUSAN MANN
The Canadian pork industry is considering shifting to a national pork grading system for measuring meat quality attributes.
The technology to grade pork based on quality factors already exists. Whether the industry wants to use such a system is the question, says Michael Young, Canada Pork International vice president of technical programs and marketing services.
Canada Pork International is the national pork promotion and market development agency for the Canadian pork industry.
In 2012, Canada Pork International worked with Swine Innovation and science-based companies to develop a set of Canadian pork quality standards that can be used to evaluate the quality attributes of meat. Swine Innovation is a non-profit corporation dedicated to facilitating research in the Canadian swine sector.
Young says the industry is evaluating the pork grading system proposal and there could be a pilot project on it next year. There is demand for a pork meat quality selection system.
“Producers are in favour of it because it moves the industry forward and allows us to drive some of the inconsistencies out of the selection system,” he notes.
Currently, pork is evaluated based on the meat-to-bone ratio “so they’re just looking for lean meat, ” Young explains. “The entire carcass quality is just based on the percentage of lean meat compared to fat.”
Technologies are out there to measure Canadian pork quality, and it’s a question of which ones can be used for “judging the different quality levels,” he notes. “There isn’t one technology. This is more of a philosophical change.”
The idea is to “select pork qualities that are best suited to different sectors,” he says. For example, some buyers want meat marbling for flavour and others are looking for lean meat to make specific products. The proposed system would allow processors to select meat with the attributes wanted by buyers so they can give customers what they want.
The system would allow processors to pick the best quality pork for each market, and “by doing that you have a more consistent product and you can go after a premium,” Young notes.
Measuring meat quality also gives the industry an opportunity to get information so it can make changes to various production parameters, such as genetics or feed, or go after more lucrative market segments.
Young says if the Canadian industry decides to adopt a pork grading system, it would be the first jurisdiction in the world to do so, and that “would definitely give us an advantage in the marketplace.”
However, there would be added costs to the processing companies that want to use the proposed pork grading system. “You can’t just grade yourself. You have to hire an independent grader and there are some validation and verification procedures involved too,” he says, noting he couldn’t release any numbers yet, although the costs wouldn’t be huge.
It would be voluntary for processors to use the proposed pork grading system, similar to the way the beef grading system for quality is voluntary. Young says all meat has to be graded for safety and that’s part of Canada’s mandatory inspection system, but the other part of grading is looking at the individual meat quality factors.
“The beef system does that now, but the pork system does not,” he explains.
Grading pigs is different than grading cattle. Young says when the beef carcass is cut in half, the Canadian beef grading system can predict the quality of the entire carcass based on what is seen in the rib eye in the very centre.
“The one we’re proposing for pigs is quite a bit different and is a little more comprehensive,” he says.
Young says he isn’t able to talk about the differences yet as there are more meetings planned for industry to talk about the proposed new system. BF