Click a question to view the answer.
Boar meat is pork from uncastrated male pigs
Boar taint is a penetrating unpleasant odour (and accompanying taste) in pork. See for more information http://boars2018.com/background/what-is-boar-taint/
A large number of European consumers attach great and increasing importance to animal welfare. European consumers consider it important that farm animals get as little as possible interventions throughout their lives. Castration of male pigs is one of these interventions. The European pig sector takes the signals seriously. Within Boars2018 they are working on a solution to the complex castration issue.
Boar piglets are routinely castrated for years with the idea thus preventing a possible abnormal smell of the meat (boar taint).
The main reason is that it improves animal welfare by avoiding an intervention in the male piglets. European society and consumers not only judge the eating quality of pork but also consider the way the animals are being treated as important. The resistance to castrate male piglets is increasing.
A lot of research and field tests have shown that this is possible. The meat quality can be ensured by carrying out proper checks in the slaughter line. It is known which points are important to the farmer. Finally, much information is available for the feed producers so that less food is needed for the same amount of meat. That is sustainable and contributes to the environment.
Which countries have built up experience in the production, sale and consumption of meat from uncastrated pigs?
The production, sale and consumption of meat from uncastrated pigs naturally depends on the market demand. In Europe, a clear trend can be observed. Since time, the UK and Ireland have not castrated male pigs. In Spain, this applies to about 80% of the pigs. Two years ago Dutch supermarkets have agreed not to sell any meat from castrated pigs anymore. In Germany, France and Belgium more and more market parties switch towards boar meat. The offer, purchase and acceptance of meat from uncastrated pigs shows a clear growth.
First, it means higher welfare for the farmer and the pig by not having to carry out castration nor having to undergo it. Non-castration also means more sustainability, lower costs because the pig grows better and more environmental efficiency as less feed is needed.
Pig farmers are used to castrate their male piglets. They’ve always done it and slaughterhouses did not accept uncastrated male pigs because of the alleged risk of smell abnormalities and boar taint. Up till now, many pig farmers have not included the economic, environmental and welfare benefits in their decisions. Still, not all pig farmers are aware of and recognize the benefits of non-castration.
Stopping castration of pigs offers the farmer many advantages. The pig farmer is relieved of tedious work and he has less work. Furthermore, a castrated male pig grows faster; the animal needs less food and produces less fat. The pig farmer has to take specific measures in farm management and should pay special attention to several points on the farm.
There are certainly differences. A lot of research on EU-level has been carried out and practical information and knowledge is available.
Additionally, there are farmers who have built up intensive experience with housing and management of boars. Their best practices are available. It has great value to share these experiences and accumulated knowledge.
The European ambition Boars2018 provides this information via www.boars2018.com and various other activities such as presentations, information and discussion meetings and press trips.
It happens that boars overreact due to their hormones and therefore occasionally cause mutual anxiety (fight and pounce on each other). Much research has been done on how this can occur and how it can be prevented. Pig farmers who have studied it, reach good results and are perfectly capable to manage boars and profit from the financial benefits that come with it.
The market – and for pig farmers that is the slaughterhouse- should want to buy and sell pork of non-castrated pigs. In several European countries and beyond, there is still resistance to meat from uncastrated pigs. This is often based on prejudices or stakeholders are not aware of the detection systems that can ensure the proper quality.
Customers then choose traditionally meat from castrated pigs to avoid the perceived risk of boar taint. However, the benefits for pig farmers are large. Boars are financially more attractive than gilts and barrows.
Is there a difference in performances or causing boar taint when males and females are bred in the same pens versus when they are bred separated? What is the situation in the various European countries? Are male and female pigs bred in the same pens or separately?
International research results provide a mixed picture. Some are in favour of mixed pens, others in favour of separate housing.
Research in the Sterksel Swine Innovation Centre does not show a preference for one of the two methods. Both give comparable results.
At the moment there is nog Information or research results from other countries. Dutch pig farmers breed their male and female pigs in most cases in separate pens.
There is no information available about the situation in other EU countries.
Surgical castration as it has been conducted for many years; the testicles of the young male piglet are removed.
Immuno-castration, the boar is two times vaccinated during the rearing with a substance which suppresses the growth of the testicles.
Optimal breeding conditions of boars: proper housing, genetics, nutrition, hygiene and rest in the barn and playing material for the animals.
Immuno-castration is a legally accepted method in the European Union. In itself this is an alternative to castration. However, respecting the integrity of the animal and leaving behind any interventions on the animal is preferred by many parties. In a number of situations, however, immune-castration can be a good (intermediate) solution. This concerns pigs slaughtered at a very high weight and age and animals in organic and free-range housing systems.
Worldwide, surgical castration is still by far the most used. Immuno-castration to a much lesser extent because it is expensive, labor intensive for the pig farmers and not accepted everywhere in the market (sales parties fear negative reactions from consumers).
In Europe, the number of non-castrated pigs has increased considerably in recent years. Much information is available from international research about housing methods and best practices. Pig farmers can thus achieve an animal friendly rearing of boars. Additionally, good detection methods have to ensure the quality of the meat.
No method nor intervention or operation during the rearing gives a 100% guarantee that abnormal smell of the meat is avoided. Therefore it is necessary that each individual bear is checked during slaughter.
Production and checks
That is not likely. The risk thereof is virtually zero.
Not all people are equally sensitive to the substances androstenone, skatole and indole that cause boar taint. Some people do not smell androstenone; others think it smells nice and a third person may indeed find that it is different in the fragrance. In general women smell it better than men.
Slaughterhouses that process uncastrated pigs (boars) have the responsibility to ensure a reliable detection method. A good (with figures substantiated) and available method is the HNS system. For this purpose, during the slaughter process some fat of the pig is scorched and a trained inspector checks the smell. This is called the HNS system (Human Nose System). Pork that smells different is kept separate and used for products where the meat is not heated.
No, there is absolutely no reason to. The meat is of excellent quality for making, for example, boiled meat products or dried sausage. Consumers can only notice boar taint if they heat the meat.
Research in large slaughterhouses in the Netherlands, Germany, France and Belgium shows an average from 3-5%. It varies even from farmer to farmer. With further tightening of farm management (hygiene, genetics, feeding, housing) this probably can be reduced even more.
There is a difference between research figures for boar taint in Denmark and other European countries. Why is that?
This difference arises because of the existence of different parameters. In the Netherlands the average is about 3-4%. This concerns the so-called hedonic parameter for boar taint, i.e. as experts perceive it. The 10% in Denmark stands for the percentage of animals having a level of skatole and / or androstenone which is above pre-specified limit values.
For skatole the limit is >0.25ppm. At higher levels of skatole and androstenone, the chance of boar taint increases. It may be that human experts smell boar taint at 3-4% of the carcasses, while 10% of those carcasses exceed 0.25ppm.
When Danish or German experiments refer to boar taint, it generally concerns the levels of skatole (and sometimes androstenone). This is not the same as the percentage of boar taint that is perceived by humans.
This is very difficult to determine objectively. The taste of boar meat is not really different. Nose and mouth, however, are well in communication with each other and can influence each other. It should also be taken into account that meat is usually seasoned and salted.
Odor is inherently personal and varies per person. Meat of boars that is judged as abnormal by professional inspectors, does not become available as fresh meat to consumers, but is processed in another way (such as cooked or dried meat).
The opinions on meat quality of boars and meat from castrated pigs differ. Research shows that these differences occur in the meat-fat ratio. It may be less advantageous for boars and even for gilts. Study results also show that the harder the fat is, the better the quality of meat. Fatter pigs have harder fat. Boars are a little less fat, but the overall effect of boars on the hardness of the fat is very low. Finally, research shows that there can be a great variation between one farm and another due to overall farm management. The differences in hardness of the fat are tiny compared to the overall variation between farms.
A good diet at the end of the rearing period affects the quality of fat and hence the quality of the meat. 150 boars and gilts have been examined three times for the quality of color and juiciness (pH value and drip) of boar meat. The results were three times the same:
– There is no negative effect on the final pH measured in boars and gilts
– There is less drip loss (better juiciness) in boar meat.
The attitude towards boar meat ranges from full acceptance to strong resistance. In general, in countries in which animal welfare and sustainability are important, the acceptance of boar meat is higher. At the same time there are markets which have an emotional resistance to boar meat, because boars were castrated for decades as a standard procedure by the assumption thus preventing boar taint. It requires a lot of communication efforts and substantiated scientific research to refute this prejudice.
Both welfare and sustainability play a particularly important role in the (North) West European market which is financially strong and where production conditions are considered in the overall quality perception. In Southern Europe – so far – only the product quality is the decisive factor and animal welfare and sustainability play a less prominent role. It is a challenge for the farmers, slaughterhouses and processing industry to find a good balance. This is crucial because all parts of the pig are sold worldwide on various markets. So even in markets that have less attention for animal welfare and sustainability for which they do not wish to pay.
In the Netherlands, many studies have been carried out to confirm the reliability of the HNS system to determine a different odor. The Dutch retail is satisfied with the method. The method has already proven its reliability for several years.
Slaughter houses are mainly worried that their customers reject boar meat in advance. It is mainly an emotional resistance and perception to boar meat. Not against the control method as such.
Are slaughterhouses able and willing to guarantee their customers that their boar meat does not smell different?
We cannot comment on individual market parties and their guarantees. With careful monitoring by trained inspectors of the HNS system it is possible to determine the abnormal smelling pork and to process that meat for other purposes then fresh meat. Measurements show an average of 3% boar taint. Slaughterhouses are responsible for ensuring that the meat they deliver is of the right quality.
European slaughterhouses are generally reticent in their communication regarding the slaughter and supply of boar meat. Why?
Apparently the emotional resistance against boar meat is in some countries or markets that strong that suppliers do not talk about it. They in advance fear complaints and a lower selling price.
The fact is that castration is done for decades from the assumption that boar taint is a common issue. Long and intensive European scientific research shows that the current situation is completely different. It is very well possible to keep boars and manage boar taint as well. It requires continuous and transparent communication to all European stakeholders in the production chain to explain about boar meat, the quality and control.
Also, information and communication on the quality assurance and control system during the slaughter process is required to build confidence in high-quality pork from male pigs.
Non-castration of piglets is a societal and political-market issue. All stakeholders are involved: pig farmers, slaughterhouses, the feed sector, customers in retail, industry and out-of-home markets, the national and European politics, NGOs and consumer organizations. Non-castration results in a higher level of animal welfare and sustainability. This is a general interest where everyone carries some responsibility.
European politicians have discussed this subject. Together with European industry parties the ambition has been expressed to stop castration in 2018 in Europe. The European Union will not organize this via legislation, but calls on producers, processors and suppliers of pork, to realize non castration in the market place. The EU Commission sees to it that this process of transition is actually carried out and supports this goal. The latest developments show that the transition is in progress and fewer pigs in Europe are castrated.
Smelling a different scent is very personal and very different. European consumer research also confirms that there are major differences in the way the scent is experienced.
One can be totally insensitive to boar taint and another will smell it clearly. Thereby it even happens that the smell is considered pleasant. It is clear that European consumers have no preconceived notions about the quality of boar meat without boar taint. The bias and emotion is at the producers, processors and sellers.
Europe (including UK, Germany, Belgium, France and The Netherlands) now produces clearly more boar meat. Does this have an effect on the appreciation and marketing of pork?
Consumer’s attitude of pork is rather stable. It remains the most consumed type of meat and the increase in the amount of boar meat has no – negative – impact on the valuation and consumption.
The total meat consumption in Europe shows a little decrease. It then is logical that this affects also pork, the most consumed type of meat in Europe. In the Netherlands significantly more pork of boars is being sold. However, the decline in sales in the Netherlands does not differ from other countries. The Dutch consumer accepts boar meat and experiences no difference in pork from barrows or gilts.
Research and taste tests show that consumers in several EU countries experience no difference in the preparation and consumption of pork from boars compared to pork from barrows and gilts. It does not affect their quality perception or purchasing and consumption behavior.