Genesus Global Technical Report, Breeding for Pork Quality – What should be the focus?

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Bob Kemp VP R&D and Genetics Program Genesus Inc.

Pork quality is a critical component driving the consumer’s eating experience and purchase decisions. Unacceptable pork quality is not a new issue for our industry. Tonsor and Schroeder (2013) reported that “The core finding of this study is that the industry has a pork quality dilemma: an economically relevant portion of product is not meeting retail pork quality targets.” Pork quality traits such as, pH, shear force, drip loss and water holding capacity are recognised as important technological factors impacting pork quality. However, from our industry’s perspective what is truly important are the factors that drive purchase decisions and deliver an excellent eating experience for the consumer. The Aaslyng et al. (2007) study reported that all consumers preferred tender meat, and that all the consumers preferred juicy meat almost to the same degree, with the juiciest meat receiving the highest acceptability score. Goddard et al. (2012) reported a strong positive relationship between overall consumer acceptability of pork and each of tenderness, juiciness and flavour. Aaslyng et al. (2007) concluded that “… if consumer acceptance is a high priority for meat product development, one should focus less on meat technological aspects and more on how the consumers respond to variations in sensory quality such as tenderness, flavour, juiciness and colour, thus gaining insight into other drivers of choice behaviour.” “Choice behaviour” in this context refers to what drives the consumer to choose pork.

Sensory quality traits (tenderness, flavour, juiciness and colour) are measured using consumer taste panels which themselves are expensive, take a long time to evaluate many pork samples and require specialised tasting centres. Thus, we need to find other tools or ways to focus on improvement of these sensory traits. Obtaining an objective measure of colour is reasonably easy using readily available technology such as a Minolta CR-400 Chroma Meter (https://sensing.konicaminolta.us/us/products/cr-400-chroma-meter-colorimeter). However, tenderness, flavour and juiciness require a different approach. Although there are limited literature reports, pork sensory traits (tenderness, juiciness and flavour) are reported to have low heritability (<0.13), favourable moderate genetic correlations with IMF (0.37 to 0.54) and low to moderate correlations with pH (.16 to.39) (Lei et al., 2020). Cannata et al. (2010) reported that increasing marbling level gave observed increases in sensory tenderness, and sensory juiciness scores and concluded that “… visual marbling score does influence the sensory qualities of pork. Marbling is one of meat’s visual characteristics that gives the critical first impression and is good instrument to measure pork quality”. Another interesting aspect of consumer purchase decisions is choice based on the visual “lean” versus “marbled” pork and this factor in particular varies across countries, regions within countries and even different segments of society. Font-i-Furnols et al. (2012) identified two groups of Spanish consumers, ‘lean loin lovers’ (55.5%) and ‘marbled loin lovers’ (44.5%) based on their visual preferences; however, according to their eating acceptability scores, all the consumers preferred loins with higher IMF levels.

Genesus believes that the consumer is “king” and improving their eating experience is an important driver for long-term success of our industry. Pork sensory quality traits are expensive and difficult to measure on a large number of animals and thus are good candidates for genomic evaluation and selection. From within the nucleus herds, Genesus incorporates weekly carcass evaluation for pork quality traits, ultrasound technology on live selection candidates and ultimately combines bioth together with genotypes. Additionally, we routinely collect pork quality traits on Genesus commercial pigs. This genomic evaluation approach provides the most accurate Genomic Estimated Breeding Values for key pork quality traits; pH, colour and marbling. This approach allows us to indirectly improve pork sensory traits we know drive the consumers eating experience and repeat purchase decisions. The importance of pork quality is being increasingly recognised by our industry. The commitment Genesus has shown for the previous 20+ years will continue, further contributing to the excellent eating experience and purchase decsions of our ultimate customer, the consumers.

References

Aaslyng et al. 2007 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meatsci.2006.10.014

Cannata et al. 2010 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meatsci.2010.02.011