Pig producers in Brazil are improving efficiency, quality and welfare standards thanks to a novel alternative to physical castration, says a prominent swine veterinarian and meat scientist.
One of the world’s top pork producers and exporters, Brazil produces upwards of 3.6 million tons of pork per year with annual exports of 500,000 tons.1
According to Jose Vincente Peloso, DVM, the high level of integration in Brazil’s pork industry means efficiency is paramount — and reputation is everything.
“When you have integration, you have traceability — more control of your products, better uniformity,” he told Pig Health Today.
“Pork in Brazil has a name; you buy the brand. You don’t buy a car, you buy a Toyota. In Brazil pork is the same: you go to the supermarket to buy that brand of sausages or ham. The brand drives the industry and that’s why the brand is the most valuable asset.”
Improving efficiency and quality
To increase efficiency without compromising quality, Peloso says a growing number of pig producers in Brazil are eschewing physical castration in favor of a technology that allows them to harness the growth performance benefits of entire male production, while minimizing associated risks.
The technology, known as immunocastration, involves administering a protein compound that works like a vaccine to inhibit gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH), temporarily delaying puberty. This blocks the production of skatole and androstenone, the naturally occurring compounds that can cause an off odor — known as boar taint — to occur when cooking meat from sexually mature male pigs.
The vaccine2 is administered in two doses: the first around 9 weeks of age to prime the immune system, and the second about 4 to 6 weeks prior to slaughter. As the vaccine’s puberty-delaying effect only kicks in after the second dose, immunocastrated pigs spend most of their lives growing as entire males, which grow faster and convert feed to meat more efficiently than barrows.
Approved for use in Brazil since 2006, the vaccine is currently used in around 60% of the country’s male pigs, Peloso reported.
The benefits of immunocastration in terms of efficiency and quality assurance are well recognized in Brazil, Peloso said, but its widespread use is also a reflection of the industry’s production economics and highly integrated structure.
“For an industry that processes 70 to 80% of its pork in manufacturing sausage, bacon and hams, it’s cheaper to have a heavier carcass because you have more lean… and the operational costs and labour are the same,” he explained.
“At the same time, producing heavier pigs demands higher costs on the farming side, as producers need to adapt space requirements, feed, and even the trucks to deliver the pigs to the slaughter plant.”
According to Peloso, technologies that promote growth and feed efficiency are critical to offsetting these higher production costs, which he said is one reason for the widespread use of the boar-taint blocking vaccine. He also noted that the ability to alter the timing of the second vaccination gives producers the flexibility to adjust carcass traits according to individual needs.
However, he said, having a vertically integrated industry with relatively few decision-makers has also made it easier to adopt new technologies, while helping to spread their costs and benefits throughout the system, he added.
“The quality assurance teams know now that immunocastration doesn’t harm the final product quality in terms of taint,” he said. “At the same time, the farming sector is happy because feed conversion or any costs of immunocastration have their pay-back.”
Another trend that Peloso said is driving interest in castration alternatives in Brazil is growing consumer interest in animal welfare and reducing painful interventions, such as castration and tail-docking.
“The welfare concerns today in Brazil are both a commercial export and domestic consumption issue. Many customers of Brazilian [livestock]…audit the plants for pork and poultry and beef because they demand their supplier to please the consumers,” he said.
Welfare also contributes to better performance at the farm level, better carcass quality and better meat quality at the industry level, he added.
“You please consumers and your customers by showing your operations are done under good welfare standards.
“At the same time, the animal you raise on the farm and take to the slaughter house is providing better performance, better feed conversion costs and carcass quality because it has been treated according to better welfare standards — so it’s a commercial matter as well as an economical subject.”
2 The compound is classified as a vaccine in all major swine markets except the US, where it is registered as a pharmaceutical.