A national survey of the pork packing industry in 2005 suggests that the incidence of pale, soft and exudative (PSE) pork was significantly less than in a similar study conducted three years earlier.

Packers harvesting 82% of the hogs marketed in the United States last year reported a 3.34% incidence of PSE. That compares to 15.5% in a National Quality Audit in 2002. Some plants reported 40% of pork was PSE.

PSE pork is low quality, becomes dry and tough with little flavor, and is unsuitable for many pork products.

The Pork Checkoff and the University of Missouri coordinated the latest survey, conducted by the Pork Quality Solutions Advisory Group, a subcommittee of the Pork Checkoff's Animal Science Committee.

The Pork Quality Solutions Advisory Group suggested that the 2002 audit might have overestimated the amount of classical PSE pork by associating individual quality traits, such as pale color and softness, with PSE. In the 2005 survey, the goal was to find “classic PSE” meat — pork that was pale, soft and watery.

A member of the Animal Science Committee, pork producer Brian Zimmerman of Beatrice, NE, says the pork industry still needs to improve pork quality.

“Three percent PSE is still too high, and it is costing our industry millions of dollars/year,” says Zimmerman, who co-owns and manages the family's farrow-to-finish operation.

Fatty Acids Create Healthier Pork

One day, pork products could join mackerel, tuna and salmon as heart-healthy sources of omega-3 fatty acids, says a University of Missouri animal scientist.

For the first time, researchers have developed pigs producing omega-3, the beneficial compound known for improving cardiovascular fitness and reducing the risks of heart disease.

“All mammals, humans included, do not naturally produce omega-3s, so the only way to get these essential fatty acids is through your diet,” says Randall Prather, University of Missouri animal scientist, whose laboratory produced the pigs. “Omega-3 pork would give consumers a new choice, and avoid concerns about heavy metal contamination in some fish species.”

Five Large White boars born at the university in Columbia, MO, last November are producing levels of fatty acids equal to or greater than pigs fed an omega-3-rich diet.

Besides consumers, pork producers also could benefit from pigs that produce omega-3 fatty acids. “The pigs themselves would be healthier, so sows could remain in a breeding herd longer and reduce replacement costs,” remarks Prather. “Consumers also would likely be willing to pay a premium for omega-3 pork, so there could be a value-added economic benefit.”

Researchers produced the omega-3 fatty acids in the pigs by inserting a gene called “fat-1,” which was isolated from the roundworm, Caenorhabditis elegans. The fat-1 gene provides the genetic instructions for producing an enzyme that converts less-desirable omega-6 fatty acids found in cereals, whole-grain bread and baked goods to omega-3.

Prather collaborated with laboratories led by Yifan Dai and Rhobert Evans at the University of Pittsburgh and Jing Kang at Massachusetts General Hospital in making the discovery. Prather explains that though cloning was used to insert the fat-1 gene, conventional breeding will be used to increase the herd.

When the National Swine Research and Resource Center opens later this year on the university campus, the omega-3 pigs will be integrated into the center's collection of swine models used for biomedical research, says Prather, co-director of the center.

PRRS Research Grants

Three researchers received the 2006 Advancement in PRRS Research Awards from Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. (BIVI).

This is the fourth year that BIVI has provided $75,000 in research grants to independent swine researchers to investigate ways to control porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS).

This year's recipients and projects are:

  • Jeff Zimmerman, DVM, Iowa State University — evaluate the performance of different diagnostic tests in detecting the PRRS virus;

  • Claudia Munoz-Zanzi, DVM, University of Minnesota — study the sensitivity of PRRS virus polymerase chain reaction for pooled serum and blood swab samples of boars during acute infection; and

  • Scott Dee, DVM, University of Minnesota — evaluate the impact of blood testing procedures on the early detection of infection in gilts.