• SA's Department of Agriculture says it has received complaints of foul smelling and tasting pork.
  • And government now wants to introduce regulations to reduce it.
  • Local pork producers, however, are adamant new regulations are not necessary and meat is safe for consumption.
  • Some solutions from government suggest the use of human or electronic sniffers to isolate boar taint.
  • For more stories visit www.businessinsider.co.za

The Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform says it has received complaints of foul tasting and smelling pork.

Known as boar taint, the phenomenon refers to pork meat from male pigs who have reached puberty before slaughtering. It is caused by the production of specific chemical substances produced by male pigs who have sexually matured.

The government now wants to introduce official regulations to reduce boar taint. In an advisory on its website, issued on 30 April this year, the department said there had been “consumer complaints” regarding boar taint, adding “some consumers are very sensitive to boar taint”.

Current regulations address the issue of boar taint in the sale of meat, but not in how it is produced, and this is the regulatory gap that the department wants filled. 

Among the proposed solutions to the problem are the introduction of “sniffers”, either human or electronic, to separate the tainted carcasses from the untainted ones. The weights of carcasses could be reduced to reduce the incidents of boar taint, so that only young carcasses end up being sold, or carcasses which could be tainted could be marked as such, and then sold.

Internationally, male pigs are typically castrated to eliminate the risk of boar taint. However, most countries don’t allow this to be done without anaesthesia, making it an expensive exercise for many farmers. Additionally, castrated pigs are generally less healthy than non-castrated ones, according to research released by the department.

But SA’s pork producers are adamant that they’re already doing everything the department is suggesting, and the country's pork is safe for consumption.

The South African Pork Producers Association (SAPPO) says boar taint prevention is common practice among pork producers, and it doesn’t know why the department wants to introduce regulations now.

Peter Evans, head of consumer assurance at SAPPO, says at least 70% of farm born pigs are already on SAPPO’s Pork 360 programme, a quality assurance system that is compulsory for members.

“What they’re (the department) proposing is something that’s already in practice,” says Evans. It’s therefore not clear where the “consumer complaints” are coming from, he adds. In South Africa, castration is uncommon, and most pig farmers do not market animals slaughtered later than 22 weeks of age, according to Evans.

Evans also says that, typically, human "sniffers" become desensitised to the smell after 20 minutes, so big teams are required, and electronic sniffers have not been proven to work.

Clean environments and balanced rations also help to reduce the risk of boar taint, and these issues are equally well self-regulated by the industry, Evans says. 

Comments on the proposed regulations close on May 31. 

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