Australia’s experience with castration alternative should give global confidence, producer says
Australian consumer acceptance of a technology that offers an alternative to physical castration should give more pork producers the confidence to use it, says one of Australia’s leading pork suppliers.
The technology, known as immunological castration or immunocastration, involves administering a protein compound that works like a vaccine to reduce the risk of boar taint, an unpleasant odor that can occur when cooking meat from sexually mature male pigs.1
According to Darryl D’Souza, PhD, chief executive of pork producer and supplier Sunpork Solutions, concerns over how consumers would react to the use of the technology has proven to be a “non-issue” in Australia.
Furthermore, he said by switching from physical castration, producers have been able to drive efficiencies while improving eating quality by significantly reducing the risk of boar taint.
Speaking to Pig Health Today, D’Souza said that with a relatively small pig sector of 270,000 sows, producers in Australia had to focus on efficiency to keep production costs sustainable.To save on labor and produce larger animals, many producers stopped physically castrating and moved to entire-male production in the late 1970s — but the switch had some unintended consequences.
“With the move to entire-male production, we [saw] the issue of boar taint really emerge,” D’Souza said.
The issue prompted the development of the boar-taint vaccine in Australia, he explained. Administered in two doses, the vaccine stimulates the pig’s immune system to temporarily block testes function. Consequently, it inhibits the production of androstenone and skatole, the naturally occurring compounds that are responsible for boar taint.
While producers were initially slow to adopt the vaccine over fears about what consumers would think, D’Souza said shoppers’ complaints about boar taint in pork meant that retailers increasingly recognized the technology’s benefits.
As a result, the country’s top-five integrated producers — accounting for about 60% of the industry — all now use the vaccine.
“In terms of [consumer] backlash around the technology, it’s just been proven to be a non-event in Australia,” he said.
“Consumers deem it as safe and they have other things on their mind, such animal welfare, antibiotics use and GM (genetically modified) technology.”
Now that Australia has proven success with the technology, there was no reason why other countries couldn’t learn from the country’s experiences, he added.
“I travel a lot, and concerns about what consumers will think about immunocastration and whether they will accept it seem to mirror the same questions we encountered in Australia 20 years ago.
“But there are numerous examples — in Australia and Brazil — that show consumers don’t rate it as an issue.
“Immunocastration has been proven to be an issue that seems to be more prevalent in industry’s mind as opposed to the consumer mind.”
1. The compound is registered as a vaccine in all major swine markets except the US, where it is registered as a pharmaceutical product.
Posted on March 7, 2019