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Boar taint is the offensive odour or taste that is often evident during the cooking or eating of pork or pork products derived from non-castrated male pigs once they reach puberty.

Studies show that many consumers are sensitive to boar taint so it is necessary for pork producers to control it [1]. Women appear to be more sensitive than men and some ethnic groups also seem to be more sensitive than others. About 25% of consumers can not taste the taint chemicals and about 80% of boar pigs do not have taint. Selecting pigs for breeding that do not have taint and managing on pasture virtually eliminate any chance of boar taint and have been successfully used at many farms.

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Controlling boar taint

For centuries, pigs in some countries have been castrated to prevent boar taint which can show up in a small percentage of boars in some breeds. Most boar pigs do not have boar taint and are slaughtered before puberty so it is not an issue. The long-standing practice in some countries sees male piglets castrated when they are about 2–3 weeks old. In some countries (for example Holland, Switzerland and Norway) it is becoming common to use general or local anaesthesia to reduce the pain and stress associated with castration [2]. The rules on whether this is compulsory or voluntary, and on whether farmers or veterinarians normally carry out the procedure, differ by country. Castration, both with and without anaesthetic, has received criticism in recent years from animal welfare groups.

In some countries, such as Australia, pigs are slaughtered at a younger age. This is because the two natural substances that cause boar taint – androstenone and skatole – only start to accumulate in the fat of male pigs when they sexually mature. Skatole can actually show up in female as well as male pigs. It is produced by bacterial action in the intestines and deposited in the fat independently of castration - this is a management issue. Pigs raised on pasture do not have this problem although it is common to pigs raised in confinement settings. Slaughter at the standard six month age can help reduce the presence of skatole based boar taint and adrostenone based taint.

Another possible method to control boar taint is to select the sex of the piglet before birth in an attempt to breed only female pigs, using sorting based on sex chromosome and artificial insemination. This method has been successfully used in cattle breeding but the technique is still under research and no economic or practical solution yet exists in pig production.

Breeding of "low-taint" pigs has been achieved with significant success [3] by breeders in Europe and the United States. Sugar Mountain Farm is one producer who has had through breeding, management and feed changes. An advantage of boars is that they grow leaner and about 10% faster putting on more meat than barrows (castrated males) or gilts (females) thus converting feed to meat more efficiently.[4]

Causes

Boar taint is caused by the accumulation of two compounds – androstenone and skatole – in the fat of male pigs.

Androstenone (a male pheromone) is produced in the testes as male pigs reach puberty, while skatole (a byproduct of intestinal bacteria, or bacterial metabolite of the amino acid tryptophan) is produced in both male and female pigs. However levels are much higher in intact boars because testicular steroids inhibit its breakdown by the liver. As a result, skatole accumulates in the fat of male pigs as they mature.

A minority of male pigs show taint as they naturally produce these compounds as they sexually mature, and over time if these substances build up, they become noticeable when the meat is cooked.

New methods

As castration has received criticism in recent years, some producers and producer associations are seeking alternative methods to control boar taint [2]. Some producers are breeding out the taint and avoiding the few breeds of pigs that are high in taint. Yorkshire, Hampshire and other lighter colored pigs are known to be particularly low in the androstenone based taint while Duroc pigs are high in the taint. Many farmers combine this with raising pigs on pasture instead of confinement. When pigs are raised on pasture in a rotational grazing system, similar to cattle, goats and sheep, the skatole based taint does not occur because the pigs are on fresh ground and not inhaling and eating their own feces.

Vaccination against boar taint, which has been used in Australia and New Zealand since 1998, is a safe and highly effective [2][5][6] solution that uses the pig's immune system to control boar taint. The use of the vaccine is as simple and reliable as physical castration in controlling boar taint. It can be safely administered by trained farm personnel and enables the production of high quality pork meat that is safe for consumers to eat [7].

The vaccine works by stimulating the pig's immune system to produce specific antibodies against gonadotrophin releasing factor (GnRF). This temporarily inhibits testes function and thus stops the production and accumulation of boar taint–causing compounds.

By stimulating production of antibodies specific to GnRF, the vaccine stops the chain of events that lead to the release of testosterone and other steroids from the testes, including androstenone, one of the two causes of boar taint. The other major taint-causing compound, skatole, is also eliminated because the lower steroid levels allow the liver to more efficiently metabolise it.

Each pig must be immunised twice to successfully control boar taint. The timing of the first dose is relatively flexible, but there must be a minimum of four weeks between the two doses, with the second taking place four to six weeks before slaughter. After the second dose, the boar's testicles stop growing. The handler should be trained in the use of the vaccine and the vaccinator with enhanced safety features.

The vaccine not only offers an animal-friendly and a more environmentally sustainable solution to boar taint, it allows stakeholders across the pork production chain to reap the performance benefits of natural boar growth while preserving eating quality. [8][9][10][11][12][13] The vaccine can have serious side effects if accidentally administered to human including temporary and permanent sterilization.

See also

References

  1. ^ Bonneau M, et al Contributions of fat androstenone and skatole to boar taint Sensory attributes of fat and pork meat Livestock Prod Sci 1992;32:63-80
  2. ^ a b c "Boar Taint"
  3. ^ "NoBoarTaint.com"
  4. ^ "Evaluation of High Tech vs Low Tech Boar Taint Controls"
  5. ^ Dunshea FR, et al Vaccination of boars with a GnRH vaccine (IMPROVAC) eliminates boar taint and increases growth performance J Anim Sci 2001;79:2524-2535
  6. ^ Jeong J, et al The effects of immunocastration on meat quality and sensory properties of pork loins, in Proceedings 20th Int Pig Vet Soc Cong, Durban, South Africa, 2008
  7. ^ Singayan-Fajardo J, et al. Eating quality and acceptability of pork from IMPROVAC immunized boars. In Proceedings 19th Int Pig Vet Soc Cong, Copenhagen, Denmark, 2006
  8. ^ Jeong J, et al. The effects of immunocastration on meat quality and sensory properties of pork bellies. In Proceedings 20th Int Pig Vet Soc Cong, Durban, South Africa, 2008
  9. ^ Giffin B, et al. Consumer acceptance of the use of vaccination to control boar taint. In Proceedings 20th Int Pig Vet Soc Cong, Durban, South Africa, 2008
  10. ^ Hennessy D, Newbold R. Consumer attitudes to boar taint and immunocastration: A qualitative study. In Proceedings 18th Int Pig Vet Soc, Hamburg, Germany, 2004
  11. ^ Hennessy D. Consumer attitudes to boar taint and immunocastration. In Proceedings 3rd Asian Pig Vet Soc Cong, Wuhan, China, 2007
  12. ^ Allison J. IMPROVAC: Consumer acceptance. In Proceedings Pfizer Symposium at 20th Int Pig Vet Soc Cong, Durban, South Africa, 2008
  13. ^ Lagerkvist AJ, et al. Swedish consumer preferences for animal welfare and biotech: A choice experiment. AgBioForum 2006;9(1):51-58

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