Top Quality Pork: A Priority For Every Link In The Chain

By JSR Genetics - Quality pork, yielding additional revenue, can only be achieved through integrated production systems involving - and rewarding - all links of the pork chain. All components in the chain must cooperate to produce quality pork. For example, changing genetics but persisting in high stress transport, is unlikely to deliver the desired product.
calendar icon 22 May 2006
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For those producing high quality pork the rewards can be high. Significantly differentiated from commodity pork in the market, high quality pork allows producers to maintain margins during periods of negative deflationary pressures.

Pork is the most widely consumed meat in the world. The FAO estimated world pork consumption to be 100.9 million tonnes in 2004 and growing at 2% annually. This growth in meat consumption typically stems from developing countries whose increasingly affluent populations demand a more varied diet. In these economies, where demand threatens to exceed supply, pork is a commodity and increasing productivity, and subsequently output, is the aim.

Developed economies face different pressures. Typically, demand and supply is relatively balanced and increasing output leads to oversupply and reduced prices. To maintain or add premium to their income in these decommoditised markets, producers must differentiate their product by adding value in terms of improving meat quality.


The value pig producers are able to command from their stock is primarily controlled by the values that the processors are able to extract from the retailer and consumer. Increasing the eating quality of pork, and therefore its value, financially benefits both producers and genetics houses, by passing greater amounts of money up the pork chain.

Breeding for quality

Quality in pork and bacon primarily covers meat eating quality with tenderness, juiciness and flavour being paramount. Only two breeds have consistently demonstrated scientifically endorsed meat eating superiority - the Duroc and the Hampshire. A minimum of 50% Duroc genetics gives meat a lower shear force, reduced cooking loss, more tenderness, a better pork flavour and higher overall acceptability: other studies have also shown increased juiciness. Meat from a Hampshire parent has lower shear force values and a lower ultimate pH, but can also incur less desirable characteristics including higher muscle glycolytic potential.


High quality pork should be produced from animals fed ad libitum from 30kg liveweight to slaughter. Diets for higher quality pork are higher in energy but lower in protein: a sample is shown in Table 1. Reducing protein in the latter stages of growth (for example in the last 30 days) from 21% to 17% significantly improves levels of marbling fat without adverse effects on subcutaneous fat levels.

Stocking density and mixing

Farming methods that minimize animal stress typically maximize pork quality. Overstocking produces poorer quality pork. Optimum stocking density is typically 1.4m2 per pig. Animals should be finished on straw rather than concrete and, to reduce stress, should only be mixed at weaning, after which they should only be split into smaller groups.


Withdrawal from feed ideally between 12-18 hours before slaughter means less feed wastage at slaughter (gut contents), less stress whilst loading and unloading and reduced waste at processing plants. Animals should not be mixed on lorries and stocking density should be at least 0.4m2/100kg. Vehicles should have non-slip floors, good ventilation and use either raised loading bays or electronically operated lifting decks. Journey times should not exceed four hours and, in hot weather, any one stationary period should not exceed 30 minutes.

Lairage and slaughtering

At the abattoir animals should be unloaded promptly and not mixed from the existing groups. Lairage stocking densities should be a minimum of 0.5m2/100kg. Animals should be in lairage between 1-3 hours, and not given feed or held overnight. Both electrical and CO2 stunning are conducive to quality pork production but electrical equipment must be appropriately positioned in relation to the brain. Scalding tank temperatures must be between 59-62°C and scalding time 5-7 minutes.

Carcase and meat processing

All carcases should be from clean pigs, free from blemishes. Ideally carcases from uncastrated boars should be a maximum of 85kg to minimize boar taint. Carcases should be split in two and suspended from the hole in the aitch bone within one hour of slaughter, for a minimum of 12 hours. During the first three hours the deep muscle temperature must not fall below 10°C and then be chilled rapidly to a temperature between 0-4°C before any further processing. All meat should be kept at such temperature until sold. For maximum pork quality, mature meat on the bone for at least 10 days, hence retail sale of all pork should always be a minimum of 11 days post slaughter.

Source: JSR Genetics - May 2006

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