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Getting prime pork from your pigs

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Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
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Is fat the new lean? Higher pork marbling standards could be on the horizon, leading to a premium product for producers.

AAFC research scientist Jon Meadus is working on producing pigs with more intramuscular fat (IMF), or marbling fat, to create tastier, moister pork that can be sold for top dollar.

Dr. Meadus explains that the marbling is what gives the pork great texture and flavour. He says it’s particularly good for barbequing and there is a market for marbled meat as well as the lean pork that is most commonly sold.

"The best pigs run around 3% to 7% of IMF values. The IMF value at 7% is about the same as AA grade of a cut of beef. Marbling is associated with tenderness and meat cuts aren’t so easily dried out. It’s a way of ensuring the consumer gets a good cut of meat with good flavour and texture."

- Jon Meadus, Research Scientist, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Dr. Meadus is currently looking to increase marbling fat in pigs through breeding and diet. In addition to trying corn feed instead of barley and experimenting with vitamin A levels in the pigs’ nutrition, Meadus’s work includes isolating DNA from a variety of boar breeds to identify the genes that produce the most marbling fat.

While he is still in the early stages, Meadus says that Duroc, Berkshire, and Iberian breeds are routinely producing good marbling.

"I take the DNA from those animals and then a group from Delta Genomics will run tests on a DNA testing kit and they’ll tell us how the animals would respond to the fat. There’s about 80 thousand genetic markers and from those I’m hoping to identify maybe 5 to 10 genes that are really key to identifying the animals with good marbling genetics."

- Jon Meadus, Research Scientist, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Meadus says that most of the high IMF pork Canada produces is sold to foreign markets. Once he is able to zero in on the best marbling genes and identify them to breeders, the industry could produce a premium product that will reach global markets as well as local grocery stores.

"It’s a kind of quality assurance, for us to continue to be top quality exporters of marbled meat and to bring that same caliber to products at home," Meadus says. "You can’t make good meat without starting off with a proper animal."

Key Discoveries/Benefits

Photo gallery

Research scientist Jon Meadus stands smiling at the camera in front of a pig pen.
Dr. Jon Meadus monitors his pigs for the marbling fat content.
Bird’s eye view of a mostly pink pork chop with a few white lines of fat.
Lean pork chop.
Bird’s eye view of a pink pork chop marbled with lots of white threads of fat.
Marbled pork chop (higher IMF content).
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