Swine Producers Capture Emerging Opportunities for Functional Foods

CANADA - Farm-Scape: Episode 2260. Farm-Scape is a Wonderworks Canada production and is distributed courtesy of Manitoba Pork Council and Sask Pork.
calendar icon 30 September 2006
clock icon 8 minute read

Farm-Scape, Episode 2260

“Right now there is a billion dollars in farm production value [in Canada] going to supply ingredients for functional foods,” states Ontario Pork communications officer Clare Illingworth.

“It’s estimated that by 2010 [in North America] the functional foods market is going to grow to about $167 billion.” She suspects, “This is being driven by consumers having an increased awareness of the role that functional food can play in supporting their health, longevity and well being.”

Consumer Awareness of Health Benefits of Foods Builds

According to Health Canada, “Canadians have been taking greater control over their health, exploring alternative or traditional medicines, complementary therapies and natural health products. There has been a growing interest in the role that nutrition plays in our state of well being.”

Through its internet web site, the agency notes, “As public knowledge of this field has evolved, manufacturers have sought to fulfill a consumer appetite for products derived from foods that could be used to promote good health. The result has been the development and marketing of a growing spectrum of products called nutraceuticals and functional foods.”

Manitoba Pork Council home economist Marlene McDonald observes, “There’s just a general greater interest in nutrition and good nutrition. Consumers are more interested in a wellness program rather than an illness program. They want to prevent problems and to maintain a healthy state so they’re looking at diet but also diet that includes foods that have specific properties over and above general nutrition.”

She explains, “Functional foods are ordinary foods but the food may have components which give it a special benefit, medical or psychological, other than simple nutrition. It’s a food which does you more good than just plain nutrition.”

Several Foods Already Recognized as Functional

There are several examples of foods which have been recognized as containing significant levels of health promoting compounds.

McDonald notes, “Tomatoes, especially cooked tomatoes, are a source of lycopene. Lycopene is an antioxidant and it’s been positively linked to a reduction in prostate cancer. So tomatoes are a functional food and the reason is because they’re a good source of lycopene. Others we’re looking at, the big one now is omega-3. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have a positive effect in terms of eye, brain and cardiovascular disease. And so omega-3 you see in a lot of different foods. They are recently being added to pork…Omega-3 pork is a functional food.

CFIA USDA Recognize Omega-3 Pork

It was actually in the spring of 2005 that Winnipeg-based Prairie Orchard Farms became the first in Canada to receive approval from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to label its pork as being a source of omega-3 fatty acids. Approximately one year later the company received similar approval from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Prairie Orchard president Willy Hoffman explains, “In Canada, in order to be approved as being a source of omega-3 we have to have a minimum of 0.3 so the leanest pork that we have does meet the criteria for CFIA for label approval. This is all accomplished through the choices of oilseeds and grains and vitamins and minerals. They all have very specific properties and they have the ability to increase the omega-3 content in pork beyond what you find typically and it’s probably somewhere between 100 to 1,000 times greater than you would find in typical pork.”

Health Claims Relate to Omega-3 Not the Foods that Contain Omega-3

Hoffman is quick to stress, “Health claims are only done on omega-3 fatty acids. Regardless of whether it’s the omega-3 eggs or the pork or other omega-3 products they strictly relate to the research that has been done on omega-3 specifically and not necessarily on eggs or dairy products or pork.”

“The source of omega-3 in our pork comes from flax. Being in western Canada our rations are basically wheat, barley, soy diets and then we choose our oilseeds very specifically for their omega-3 content. They’re very similar to typical hog rations.”

“We choose very specific sources of vitamins and minerals that have the ability to stabilize the product, give us shelf life and improve the taste and texture and color of the material as well. We’re currently selling our product in Manitoba, Alberta, recently launched in Central and Eastern Ontario and they’re all going fairly well.”

Selenium Enriched Pork Also Available

A second pork product recognized as a functional food is being marketed locally by Perth Pork Products in southwestern, Ontario.

Selenium enriched pork is being produced on the Stratford area family farm operated by Fred de Martines, his wife Ingrid and their four children. Selenium is recognized as an antioxidant which has been shown to help prevent cancer.

Fred de Martines explains, “We’ve added an organic selenium yeast in our hog grower diet and we feed it to the pigs. Because it’s a an organic selenium yeast the pigs actually put that selenium in the muscle, not in the fat.”

“It’s a corn soybean meal based ration and it's supplemented with this (organic selenium yeast) and your regular minerals vitamins and trace minerals. Independent testing conducted at the University of Prince Edward Island has determined the selenium content is about 63.6 percent higher than in regular pork.”

Availability of Selenium Enriched Product Limited.

De Martines says, “Since we’re right now the only barn in North America we haven’t been able to really market it right across the province, let alone right across the country. But that’ll change. People aren’t aware of it just yet.”

He is confident that awareness will build. In addition to being a good source of selenium, “It also works for the packers as well because the drip loss of the carcasses is less because the selenium will hold the moisture better and it’ll also provide you pork that is just a little more moist.”

Enriched Pork Not Expected to Replace Regular Pork

McDonald predicts enriched pork will remain a niche market.

“I don’t see that omega-3 pork is going to overtake the general pork market. But it’s certainly an opportunity for producers to produce a specialized product of appeal to certainly a greater and greater segment of the population. So that’s just an opportunity to diversify and differentiate product so they can gain a larger share of the consumer dollar, especially the health conscious consumer’s dollar.”

She notes, “Pork has always been a part of a healthy diet. It’s a lean product. The omega-3 pork will be slightly higher in fat, but it’s a healthy fat so it certainly has a place in a healthy diet. In addition to contributing protein, B vitamins, important minerals, now it can also contribute omega-3 fatty acids.”

She adds, “It’s a relatively small part of the market right now but I think, with increased interest from consumers, it’s going to become more common in the grocery meat case and also in food service applications in restaurants.”

Hoffman concurs, “It’s gaining momentum. I think it is a new direction for food production where we’re looking at very specific characteristics of food where we can, through slightly different processes, produce a product that has health benefits beyond what they naturally do. I think, with all our interest in health in general in North America, products like this are going to find a brand new market.”

Consumers Expected to Demand More of Food

De Martines suggests, “Food is going to have to do more than just be very nourishing and tasting well. It also has to have a medicinal component to it. People are more and more concerned with their health.”

Illingworth agrees, “Consumers certainly have an increased awareness of the role that food can play in supporting their health. Some reasons behind this would be the aging population, rising health care costs. It’s certainly top of mind with government and consumers right now.”

McDonald continues, “I think people are always looking for more and better and so they’re choosing their foods for taste and nutrition. But I think they’re looking for those foods that add a little bit more beyond basic nutrition. And so whether it’s omega-3 or CLA [conjugated linoleic acid] or even selenium it’s just another thing, another benefit of eating pork.

Illingworth concludes, “As our population ages there’s going to be an increased burden on our health care in Canada. And agriculture, and specifically animal proteins through functional foods, could help ease that burden and lead to a healthier population.

Staff Farmscape.Ca
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