The country’s leading farm assurance scheme has agreed to allow the animal welfare benefits of a boar taint vaccine to be assessed under commercial conditions in the United Kingdom.
The vaccine works through the pig’s immune system to temporarily inhibit the production of hormones associated with boar taint, an unpleasant odor that can develop when cooking meat from sexually mature male pigs. In many markets, the vaccine is used as a welfare-friendly alternative to surgical castration, but in the UK — where castration is uncommon — the vaccine has potential to improve meat quality. However, although the vaccine is approved in the UK and throughout the EU, Red Tractor guidelines do not currently permit its use.
In a series of recent columns, Weekly Tribune commentator Stephen Hall claimed that Red Tractor was holding up the wider use of the vaccine by playing “ping pong with retailers on the issue,” but in an open letter to the publication, Prof. Will Haresign, chairman of the Red Tractor Pigs Technical Advisory Committee, said this is not true. When the committee had been presented with scientific evidence about the vaccine, he said, it concluded that the science was sound and that there were no food safety issues associated with its use.
Furthermore, Haresign continued, there could be other significant advantages such as reduced aggression of boars during the final finishing phase, improvements in meat eating quality through the removal of boar taint and enhanced intramuscular fat content, and, where segregation by sex during the final finishing phase is not practiced, removal of the welfare problems associated with injuries from unwanted mounting of gilts.
The magnitude of potential beneficial effects has not yet been unquantified in a UK context, according to Haresign. Previously, the committee had agreed to allow a derogation of its castration standard to allow research to take place on commercial farms, without them losing their assured status. This agreement was given on the conditions that the testing would be on a case-by-case basis and that parties further up the supply chain gave their explicit approval.
According to Weekly Tribune, Haresign wrote that the committee would welcome the opportunity to see the results of any such independent research conducted on the welfare benefits. Given the importance of this issue, the committee has asked to be allowed to approve the design of any trials as part of its derogation to ensure the robustness of the research.
At the time, there had been no requests for derogations. However, if there were to be trials with positive outcomes, the Pigs Technical Advisory Committee would be open to changing the standard on castration. Professor Haresign said that could be achieved quite easily by inserting the word “surgical” before “castration” in the relevant standard. He stressed that this change would require the agreement of all sectors within the UK supply chain.
The current edition of Red Tractor Assurance for Farms – Pigs Standards states “castration is not allowed”.
Established in 2000, Red Tractor Assurance is a not-for-profit, limited company set up by the UK food industry. Its logo, which signifies farm-to-pack assurance, is used by major UK retailers, many branded manufacturers and food service operators.
Full article appears in November 16, 2015 issue of the Weekly Tribune.