Anne Lacoste is R&D manager at Cooperl Arc Atlantique

We are happy and proud to have enhanced human and animal welfare”

Anne Lacoste on COOPERL’s transition to entire male pigs
S.A. COOPERL is one of the largest pork producers in France and a cooperative of farmers, feed producers, slaughterhouses, processors and butcheries. In 2013 COOPERL transitioned to the production of entire male pigs.

Why did COOPERL transition to entire male pig production?
The transition was driven by our earlier commitment to animal welfare. We were inspired by the example of producers in Germany and the Netherlands, who have already shifted to meat production with entire males. The males were comparable to fattening pigs (weight and age) of traditional UK and Spanish entire male production. Several visits to those countries helped to collect additional information and make a plan for testing the feasibility of such a transition at COOPERL.

How did the transition to entire male pigs work?
First we started trials to test the feasibility. In the first trial, we asked volunteer farmers to stop surgical castration, but not change any of their other practices. In that phase, we applied the human nose method for detecting boar taint, based on Dutch protocols. After an evaluation of the first trial, a second phase of optimisation took place. This optimisation focused mainly on feeding, as entire male pigs have a different feeding behaviour compared to castrated pigs. The evaluation of the trial on feeding practices involved a review of all the savings and costs of the shift to entire male pigs for farmers, feed producers, slaughterhouses and processors at COOPERL.

What were the consequences of the transition to entire males for farmers, feed producers and slaughterhouses?
The evaluation broadly concluded that the farmer benefited greatly: they no longer have to surgically castrate the pigs and the costs of accompanying health checks / treatments drop accordingly. Furthermore, farmers who produce entire males have fewer dejections and therefore can more easily manage the environmental impact of their operations. The farmer also has lower feed costs and are more lean carcass content of pigs, which means higher revenue.

The feed producer was however negatively impacted, because of the better feed conversion of entire males and therefore reduced quantities of feed required. Finally, slaughterhouses incur the additional costs of boar taint detection.

The overall evaluation of all costs and benefits showed that the transition would generate a net benefit for COOPERL.

What are the most important focus points for farmers?
At the beginning, the feeding behaviour and the occurrence of sexual behaviour changed. At present, farmers are focussed on boar taint prevalence, and the average company level of boar taint has decreased significantly.

How did you realize the transition to entire boars on all farms?
The transition from trial to commercial production took place in 2013. This included the establishment of a penalty system for carcasses with detectable boar taint. To monitor the quality, the human nose test was carried out on each individual carcass at the slaughterhouse. Systematic feedback on the level of boar taint detected in each batch was provided to the farmers. COOPERL also provided reports to farmers each trimester, enabling farmers to compare their performance to their peers. These reports included boar taint level and risk factor issues. Each carcass with boar taint is classified for some risk factors (weight, age, fat content) in order to help the farmer to better manage those.

How can boar taint be prevented in the long run?
COOPERL invested in research in genetics through its parent company NUCLEUS. Specifically, research was conducted by NUCLEUS jointly with the French Institute for Agronomical Research (INRA) to develop a method for qualifying boars in terms of the inheritable risks of boar taint, working with the Pietrain breed. This has led to individual testing of all Pietrain boars provided by NUCLEUS, and to the elimination of those detected as presenting a high risk of boar taint. As a result, NUCLEUS has developed a label “INO” (which stands for the French inodore, “without smell”) for these Pietrain boars.

How do retailers react to boar meat?
COOPERL’s transition to the production of entire males was not driven by demand of retailers & other buyers, nor by animal welfare organisations. To reassure retailers and Business-to-Business (B2B) buyers that the transition was beneficial for them and does not present risks, COOPERL ran trials with both. For example, COOPERL ran trials with store managers in which they were informed in advance that, for a given period, they would only receive meat from entire male pigs. There was a close interaction between a COOPERL representative and the store manager during that trial, to monitor any variations in sales and any consumer complaints.
COOPERL also organised numerous visits for retail and B2B representatives to come and see the full production process, especially the human nose method, to convince them of its reliability for detecting boar tainted carcasses. The human nose method at COOPERL is audited and certified annually by the German company SGS, which provides additional reassurance to the other segments of the supply chain.

Are there any remaining challenges?
COOPERL highlighted for its B2B clients that carcasses of entire males are easier to process than those of castrated males, which results in economic benefit. These efforts have proved successful in most cases, and COOPERL has managed to take retailers and B2B clients on board so that it successfully provides entire male meat to an estimated 13 million consumers per day. However, obstacles remain by clients that sell premium, labelled products as Label Rouge or organic pork which refuse entire males.

How does COOPRL look back on the transition to entire boars?
We are happy and proud to have enhanced human and animal welfare and reduce the environmental impact and increase farmer revenue, while maintaining a high quality of the final product to the consumers. COOPERL farmers – which are also Cooperative members- are also proud to have the lead in France with welfare issues. That step has allowed the Cooperative to rear antibiotic free pigs. No castration means no pain, no injury and less need for antibiotics.