Ending castration success stories: Belgian retailers switch to castration-free

Retailers and food service operators in Belgium contribute to the ending of surgical castration in various innovative ways. Read their success stories and learn what they did right.

Belgium-based food retail giant launches castration-free pork products
The retailer launched a line of surgical castration-free pork products under its “Better for Everyone” label in June 2018. In promoting this label, the company highlights the benefits of the pig breed used and describes the properties and quality of the meat.

Discount supermarket chain moves to entire males
In 2012, a global retailer’s store chain in Belgium fully transitioned to the sale of meat from entire non-vaccinated pigs.

Supermarket chain adopts immunocastration
The company conducted a trial in 2010 to improve pig welfare by using vaccination against boar taint. It applied the vaccine on approximately 2,600 boars and monitored all production steps from vaccination to meat consumption.

Read more about these retail and food successes to end surgical castration in the PDF below.

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Advantages of ending surgical castration

Farmers, slaughterhouses, food processors, retailers and food service operators alike can benefit from ending surgical castration of piglets. Areas where advantages can be realized are animal welfare, feed efficiency, environment, quality and production.

The fact sheet below, issued by the European Commission, highlights the advantages, alternatives, best practices and success stories of ending surgical castration.

Download the PDF

Video: Benefits of raising entire males from a farmer’s and an operator’s perspective

There are two alternative options for surgical castration while avoiding boar taint. One is to raise entire male pigs and the other is to vaccinate. Both ensure better animal health and welfare, higher meat quality, lower costs, and increased productivity. Pig farmer Mark Tijssen, slaughterhouse operator Derk Oorburg and retail and food service operator Wim van Kemenade elaborate on their experiences in the video below.

Mark Tijssen: Better health, welfare, and efficiency
Pig farmer Mark Tijssen started raising entire males 10 years ago. He finds them much more efficient than castrated ones, while animal welfare and health are also better. To reduce boar taint, he keeps clean stables and uses the right feeding components. To be successful in the future, he needs the commitment from all partners in the chain.

Derk Oorburg (Vion Food Group): The entire chain contributes, from farm to fork
Because the market required higher animal welfare standards and there was more demand for leaner meat, Derk’s company decided to start slaughtering entire males. The success of this lies in the entire chain, from farm to fork. High quality in the slaughter process is an important contributing factor.

Wim van Kemenade (Sourcing Manager at Albert Heijn): Less feed, same amount of meat
The meat from entire males is leaner, which meets dietary requirements for many consumers. Entire males are efficient growers as well: they produce more meat with the same food intake. So, it takes less feed to make the meat you need. Lastly, because no surgery is needed on the piglet, raising entire males raises the bar for animal welfare.

Educational materials on alternative methods to surgical pig castration

The EU Animal Welfare Platform held its ninth meeting on June 22, 2021. One of the topic was alternative methods to surgical pig castration. At the Platform meeting information was provided on educational material supporting the dissemination of best practices in the production, the processing and the marketing of meat from entire male pigs or pigs vaccinated against boar taint.

The education material included twelve factsheets in twenty-four languages and one video addressing the whole production chain in English language and with subtitles in twenty-two languages. USB sticks for dissemination are available.

Themes the educational material focusses on are:

Download here the presentation.

Brocéliande organic pig breeders no longer castrate pigs

Most of the organic pig breeders at Brocéliande, part of the large French pork cooperative Cooperl, have chosen to no longer castrate their pigs. The combination of organic pig farming without castration is unique in France and elsewhere. Click here to read more about the commitment of a part of Brocéliande breeders to a qualitative approach to breeding.

Brocéliande consists of 256 breeders in the western part of France. They are committed to a qualitative approach to breeding. They focus on respect for animal welfare, protection of the environment and the fight against antibiotic resistance. A decent salary for the breeders and the employees of the cooperative is also a focus point. 

No castration, no antibiotics

They call their pigs ‘Bien Élevées’ or ‘well-raised’ because they come from quality chains. Some of Brocéliande’s cooperative breeders are now engaged in breeding without antibiotics, while others are engaged in breeding without antibiotics or pesticides, or in organic breeding. Some of Brocéliandes organic breeders have chosen to no longer castrate their pigs, which is a first in France. “This is a way for them to respect the animals’ physical integrity, it helps to reduce stress and the natural resistance against diseases”, according to a spokesperson.

The organic part of Brocéliande consists of 24 farmers committed to good food for consumers and to a sustainable farming method for the planet, for animals and for people. Their pigs are raised according to French organic specifications and their farms are monitored and evaluated according to 130 animal welfare requirements.

Click here to go to the original article.

Is the market ready?

At the IPEMA conference Gé Backus presented the current situation regarding market acceptance of meat from non-castrated animals. As entire male pigs are leaner and tend to have less back fat and a less desirable fatty acid composition, realizing market acceptance depends not only on boar taint, but also on backfat thickness and fat quality of the entire male pig carcass.

The presentation concluded that only supply chain wide solutions will really help to create market acceptance. Pork supply chains are better and better equipped to become successful. The majority of the market is ready for pork supply chains that apply adequate boar taint detection and that supply products that meet the specifications for backfat thickness and fat quality of the entire male pig meat. However, there are still some loose ends. The potential of available knowledge is not fully utilized, and the role of feeding as a direction for a solution is not clear enough.

Click here to view a pdf of the presentation, or watch the full IPEMA webinar here.

Read more about market acceptance on our topic page. 

Picture: RitaE

French producers shift to entire male piglets

Ten French producer organizations will process and market pork from uncastrated male piglets. ln a letter addressed to their breeders, Agrial, Eureden, Elpo, Evel’up, GRPPO, Porcineo, Porélia, Syproporcs, Porveo, and Porc Armor Evolution state that they will apply this measure as of January 1st, 2022.

“The basic price will be the average price of the population of female pigs, entire males and not non-castrated males as is currently the case.”ª The group stresses that that pig carcasses must be tested for boar taint in the slaughterhouses under the responsibility of Uniporc-Ouest. They propose that the costs related to this quality control should be financed through a dedicated contribution from pork butchers working with farms that have stopped castration.

This declaration of intent follows the goal of the Minister of Agriculture, Didier Guillaume, to ban live surgical castration of male piglets, as from December 31st, 2021. One of the solutions envisaged is castration under anesthesia. But according to the engineers of the IFIP-institut du porc who tested this method, it is not 100% effective.

The risk of producing carcasses with sexual boar taint requires detection at the slaughterhouse. To date, only the “human nose” technique has been developed and proved effective in detecting boar taint. The method is used routinely in the abattoirs of Cooperl and is being further developed in the Netherlands. It remains to be seen whether the slaughterhouses which have not yet shifted to slaughtering entire male pigs will accept the human nose technique as a proven method.

The advantages of stopping castration are eliminating the handling of piglets in the farrowing unit, and preserving their physical integrity. Next to improved animal welfare, banning castration improves technical performance in fattening, notably by reducing the feed conversion ratio and improving the percentage of lean meat.

Read more about this declaration here, for more information on boar taint detection methods, check out our topic page.

Pig production and pork consumption questionnaire

In order to collect insights in consumer attitudes towards different ways of pig production, an online survey is created at ILVO (Belgium) in collaboration with the COST IPEMA network, involving several other European institutions. The questionnaire is now open for collection, and available in 19 different languages. It takes only 10 minutes to fill out the questionnaire.  

By filling out the questionnaire you will help in collecting insights to improve pig farming. The questions range from statements on meat consumption towards your opinion on farming practices. You can select your language on the first page of the survey. Survey responses will be kept confidential. The information provided will always be presented so that identity can never be connected with specific published data. 

You are welcome to spread this questionnaire within your network by sharing the questionnaire link: https://survey.ilvo.be/index.php/663891?lang=en

To read more about consumer attitudes towards boar meat and pig production, visit our topic page ‘consumer & market’.  

Johanna Mörlein: studying consumer acceptance

“We urgently need to turn the strictly scientific perspective to a relevant and practical one.”

Johanna Mörlein is a researcher at the University of Göttingen. She studied agriculture at the University of Göttingen and at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. Since 2010 she is involved in sensory perception studies on boar taint.

What was your PhD thesis about?

“Mainly it was about how humans perceive boar taint and how professional testers can be objectively trained. Chemical methods allow us to measure any concentration we want but in the end it is the human being that is eating and evaluating the meat. Nowadays, professional testers are analyzing and signaling boar tainted meat. We need these trained testers  to calibrate chemical methods for boar taint analysis. But we have to consider that consumers are naïve, they experience meat products in real life situations without framing and, of course, without training. This makes that the consumer boar taint signaling differs from professional testers. This makes using trained testers a worst-case scenario for studying consumer acceptance.”

Can you tell us a bit more about consumer rejections of tainted meat?

“In designing consumer studies the environmental context has to be considered, because so called central location tests (CLT) in a controlled sensory lab, in individual booths, reflects a worst case scenario. Because one cannot compare such eating situations with real life eating situations.”

“We did several studies from classic CLT-tests with the single product (kotelett), to meal studies with high fat products and home use tests.  In all these studies we did not observe high rejections of tainted meat. Most of the times we were discussing about a difference in rating between for example 6.1 versus 6.5. This can be a statistically significant difference. But the more important question is whether this is a relevant difference. What does this difference mean? We urgently need to turn the strictly scientific perspective to a relevant and practical one. I want to share an example on this: we know that Skatole is also present in sows, sometimes at very high concentration levels. My personal experience is that consumer rejections are mostly related to sows with high Skatole levels and they are on the market since forever. Castrating boars will not eliminate tainted meat, as sow meat can also be tainted, so we have to look in other directions.”

What did you learn from talking with consumers?

“Next to quantitative studies, we organized focus groups. These qualitative studies help us to better understand the consumer perspective on alternatives to castration. Focus group sessions revealed that raising boars was quite well accepted by organic consumers. For consumers, raising boars is quite natural, and easy to understand when explained. And many of these organic consumers revealed a higher tolerance level for tainted meat from boars. On of them stated:  ‘I have eaten tainted meat from wild boar and it’s okay, it just happened’. These are interesting insights that we can build on.”

Consumer acceptance of (tainted) boar meat

Two independent studies of the University of Göttingen tested the consumer acceptance of Frankfurter sausages made with varying contents of (tainted) boar meat. They simultaneously studied four factors relevant for the production of emulsion-type sausages: 

Consumer acceptance tests
The acceptance tests were conducted in a commercial sensory laboratory using a pre-recruited consumer sample. Sausages were served warm. In total 216 consumers evaluated all 16 sausages on two testing days. Consumer olfactory acuity (sense of smell) to androstenone and skatole was assessed using a dedicated smell test. The duration in smoke and concentration of spices did not significantly influence consumers’ flavor liking of the sausages. 

Up to one third of tainted boar meat can be used without negative effects
To identify the percentage of tainted boar meat that can be processed without impairing consumer liking, the researchers used a statistical approach called non-inferiority testing. In result it was shown that up to one third of tainted boar meat can be used without a negative impact on consumer acceptance for the type of product studied (Frankfurter type sausages). Due to the fact that the researchers created a high risk scenario using a high fat product (20%) that was consumed hot, which facilitates off-flavor release and perception, they support the idea that up to 33% tainted boar raw material can also be used in other processed pork products.

The researchers suggest applying the non-inferiority test approach, for which a margin needs to be set, which is defined as a scale dependent liking loss compared to the reference product. In other words, in order to test for sufficient acceptability, a liking gap needs to be determined because it is otherwise statistically impossible to conclude on similarity. 

In conclusion it was shown that up to one third of tainted boar meat can be used without a negative impact on consumer acceptance for the type of product studied (Frankfurter type sausages). Further studies are recommended in order to identify a liking gap and further study the consumer acceptance of (tainted) boar meat.

Click here to view the publication of the study

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