In 2010, representatives of European farmers, the meat industry, scientists, vets and NGOs signed the Brussels Declaration occasioned by increasing attention for animal welfare and the pork sector and meat industry’s desire to produce in a socially responsible, sustainable manner. The signatories expressed their ambition to stop castrating pigs in the EU as of 1 January 2018. They concluded that European legislation in this field was not necessary, but that the Brussels Declaration constitutes an invitation to the European pork sector to voluntarily stop castration. The parties agreed that a European, market-based approach was required in order to share the costs evenly and to ensure that international market parties start accepting meat from boars (uncastrated pigs). The European Commission supports the work required to achieve these goals.
Andrea Gavinelli is responsible for animal welfare, health and consumers at the Directorate General of the European Commission (DG Sanco). Gavinelli is closely involved in multiple European research projects aimed at cataloguing all aspects of the development and prevention of boar taint and market acceptance. Examples include studies into the chemical components that cause boar taint and breeding studies that focus on reducing the risk of boar taint through genetic selection. An extensive study is underway at farm level into the influence of feed and management on the development of boar taint. Economic analyses are also being carried out that aim to chart the costs and benefits of stopping castration. Finally, consumer acceptance of boar meat is being studied across the European Union and elsewhere.
One of the studies revealed that stopping castration has advantages for pig farmers. They no longer have to carry out animal-unfriendly, labour intensive and annoying castrations, but – more importantly – stopping yields more money per pig. This economic advantage develops due to improved boar feed conversion, an increase in daily growth and a higher meat percentage. On the other hand, raising boars requires pig farmers to modify their operations as boar behaviour differs from that of other pigs. Research has shown that there are huge differences between farms that fatten boars. These differences and the risk and success factors have been studied in more detail. The results will be charted over the coming period and are expected to be announced in the autumn of 2013.
The biggest challenge facing boar meat is the quality perception of consumers. Boar taint can occur when heating the meat and melting the fat. Although studies have shown that consumers tend to judge meat more on the basis of flavour than smell, everyone agrees that meat with boar taint should not reach consumers. The solution is a good, reliable detection method that enables the recognition and canalising of meat with boar taint. This meat is perfect for the production of cold meat products as this prevents boar taint developing. In this way, only boar taint-free meat reaches consumers. In the meantime, a detection method has been developed and proved to be effective during trials.
Licence to produce
Across Europe, social organisations are now pointing out to the meat industry the necessity of responsible, sustainable and animal-friendly meat production methods. Boar meat is sold in the UK and the Netherlands. Buyers at a European level are still critical because knowledge and experience with boar meat is sometimes lacking. Quite understandably, the meat trade does not wish to take risks. Good quality control solves this and a method has been developed to this end. European studies have revealed that almost all the parties involved agree that stopping castration is an irreversible process. It answers a strong consumer desire and is necessary in order to retain a social licence to produce for the future.