Canadian pork, enhanced with Omega 3, will soon be available in select U.S. supermarkets.

Manitoba-based Prairie Orchard Farm's Omega-3 pork received USDA approval in June. The company plans to market it under their Verdancia pork label in New York, parts of California and several central states.

Canadian Omega-3 pork is created through a simple shift in diet, using feed enhanced with flax seed. No changes in production, technology or machinery are required. Omega 3's are fatty acids, which are lodged in the pork fat. Pork cuts with more fat will, therefore, have more Omega 3's than leaner cuts.

Flax, also called linseed, has been closely associated with oil-based paints and as the source of linen fabrics. Lately, it has been recognized as a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids and is being promoted for its health benefits in both food and animal feed. A host of new flax-enhanced products are starting to hit the marketplace.

Canada is the world's top producer of flax, raising about 700,000 tonnes (770,000 U.S. tons) annually. The crop is also grown in northern plains states.

Health Benefits Tug O'War

Consumers' desire for healthier food is generating a lot of interest in Omega-3 pork. Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids, essential to one's diet. But not all Omega 3's are created equal. Their nature depends on their origin.

Alpha-linolenic fatty acid, also known as ALA, is an Omega-3 fatty acid and is mostly found in vegetable sources such as flax seeds, walnuts and soybean and canola oils. It delays platelet aggregation and may also reduce heart arrhythmias.

ALA, while still desirable, is not as beneficial as the very long chain Omega-3 fatty acids — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — that come from the sea.

While flax-enhanced Omega-3 pork has a relatively high level of ALA compared with regular pork, it would only contain minimal amounts of EPA and DHA. Still, all mammals, including humans, have the ability to convert some of their ALA into EPA and DHA.

These very long-chain Omega 3's, more likely to be found in fatty fish, have been found to lower plasma triglycerides (amount of fat in our blood supply). However, as Nora Lee, in charge of the Nutrition Evaluation Division at Health Canada, points out, not everyone eats fish — therefore, some may want to look elsewhere for sources of EPA and DHA.

“Consumers may be able to increase their overall Omega-3 fatty acid intake slightly by eating Omega-3 pork instead of regular pork,” Lee says. “But they should be aware that in order to get Omega-3 pork's benefits, they need to eat the pork fat. It is therefore important for consumers to read labels and compare lipids and saturated fats of Omega-3 enhanced pork with regular pork before deciding to buy the product.”

“It's been suggested that all fat is bad and that's not true,” says Willy Hoffman, president of Prairie Orchard Farms. “Many fats have different health aspects; a person cannot be healthy without having fats or oils or something in their diet required for different body functions. We're not suggesting that eating a pound of Omega-3 bacon will save your life, but if you're going to have bacon, you have a choice.”

A big part of promoting Omega-3 pork is educating consumers about polyunsaturated fats, explains Hoffman. “When we promote our Omega-3 pork, we also suggest that people consume Omega-3 eggs, Omega-3 dairy products, the margarines, the breads and the fish, so they can have the amount of Omega 3's needed to promote human health and have the ideal ratio between Omega 3's and Omega 6's.”

According to the Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health in Washington, DC, there is evidence to suggest that excessive amounts of Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and a very high Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio, as is found in today's Western diets (15:1 to 16.7:1), promote the pathogenesis of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

In contrast, increased levels of Omega-3 PUFA (a low Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio) reduce the risk of many of the chronic diseases of high prevalence in Western societies.

A new genetically modified German linseed might change everything. The plant, produced by Ernst Heinz at Germany's University of Hamburg, has shown to accumulate high levels of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids after having received DNA coding sequences for genes responsible for the production of long-chain PUFAs from algae (Phaeodactylum tricornutum) and borage. This discovery, if introduced in Canadian flax, would then make Omega-3 pork even more interesting.

Easy, But Not Simple

While adding flax to a hog diet sounds simple enough, the process took Prairie Orchard Farms six and a half years to develop.

“Our Omega-3 program had to accomplish a number of things,” explains Hoffman. “We had to work through our processes to make sure that the pork would be a very flavorful, tasty product. The other thing we had to work on was shelf life.”

Products that contain flax are typically less stable, he explains. Their goal was to increase the shelf life of Omega-3 pork to match that of typical pork.

The Omega-3 pork is sweeter, darker and more marbled than regular pork. “Actually, we've been told by chefs who've sampled our products that it is a little sweeter tasting than typical pork, and it is more tender and juicy because it is well marbled,” he adds.

Labeling

Since the Omega 3's are stored in the fat, and each cut has a different percentage of fat, labeling is tricky and different in Canada than the United States.

Prairie Orchard Farms submitted whole-hog samples to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Omega-3 values ranged from 0.4 grams (0.014 ounces) to 2.0 grams (0.07 ounces)/100-gram (3.53 ounces) serving, which met the CFIA requirements of each serving having at least 0.3 grams (0.01 ounces)/100-gram (3.53 ounces) serving. All cuts submitted received Omega-3 certification.

“For the USDA approval, although they don't have specific criteria, we had to submit every muscle group separately and get approval for each,” adds Hoffman. “We've also received the allegation for the side ribs and tenderloin and, most recently, for our Omega-3 bacon.” The company is now in the process of having its ham certified.

Prairie Orchard Farms is currently working with three Manitoba hog producers to supply 50,000 lb. of pork weekly for the Canadian and U.S. markets. A $6-10/hog premium over regular market prices is paid to producers raising the Omega-3 pork.

“It is quite a challenge to do what we do, to market meat products that promote human health,” adds Hoffman.

“Being the first can be challenging, but I think we're making headway. We've had some really good response in Canada. We just came back from a trip into the United States and we're hoping to move everything forward.”

Pork with Selenium Approved by USDA

USDA recently granted Prairie Orchard Farms, Winnipeg, Manitoba, permission to market its Verdancia Farms-branded pork in the United States as “an excellent source of selenium.”

The company is awaiting similar approval from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Company nutritionist Amy Johnston explained that plant life in many parts of the world, including parts of Asia and the southern United States, are deficient in selenium content due to highly acidic soil, which prevents the absorption of the mineral from the soil.

Selenium is an antioxidant believed to help prevent major cancers such as prostate cancer, breast cancer and colorectal cancer, as well as Alzheimer's disease.