Traditional pig breeds could boost pork industry's sustainability
An EU-funded project has researched lesser-known and not industrially farmed pig breeds in a bid to help Europe's pork industry diversify and become more sustainable. This could help save endangered breeds, benefit the environment and result in new, high-quality meat options for consumers.
© bernardbodo, #85795899, source: stock.adobe.com 2019
From sausages to chops, pork is the most consumed meat in the world. This means that pig farming in Europe is big business. However, to ensure its future sustainability, the industry needs to address crucial issues including environmental protection, animal welfare, its public image and availability of land for production.
One way of doing this is exploring heritage pig breeds that are not industrially reared. Currently, the dominance of large-scale, profit-driven pig farming has meant that over 95 % of European pork production revolves around a few breeds. Meanwhile, many traditional breeds have been abandoned and are now endangered.
In an effort to bring about change, the EU-funded TREASURE project researched 20 local European pig breeds. These included more well-known ones such as the Iberian in Spain or the Mangalitsa in Serbia, as well as lesser known breeds like the Krkopolje pig in Slovenia, the Moravka in Serbia, the Gascon in France and the Cinta Senese in Italy.
Driven only by agricultural outputs and economic efficiency, the current food system has become unsustainable and pork production is no exception, says TREASURE project coordinator Marjeta ÄŒandek-Potokar, research scientist at the Agricultural Institute of Slovenia. Diversifying breeds and managing them correctly could help address the challenges of future pig production. TREASURE is taking the first step in this direction by studying uncommon breeds in more detail than ever before.
Genetics and diet
The project compiled data that can help conserve and boost the use of different indigenous pig populations. It uncovered the genomic information of all the pig breeds it studied to understand their structure and diversity, and to help prevent inbreeding. It also put together details on endangered breeds, dietary needs, locally available feed resources, pig welfare needs, traditional animal management techniques, emissions from grazing, manure management practices and local pig product recipes using local breeds.
TREASURE studied the environmental impact of production systems involving three model breeds the Gascon, the Mora Romagnola and the Krkopolje pig and analysed how to make them greener. For example, a farms ecological footprint can be lower when pig feed is produced by the farm itself.
The project developed and rediscovered high-quality pork products and researched potential innovations for enhancing their health benefits, such as reducing salt content, shortening meat smoking times, and reducing the use of nitrites.
According to TREASURE researchers, the Iberian pig is a good example of how a less efficient traditional breed can be used for a high-end, popular product like jamon iberico, while preserving production techniques and more sustainable practices.
TREASURE researched how pork products are viewed by consumers. It found that information such as meat quality, sustainable rearing methods, good animal welfare, and preserving local tradition and economies is important to people.
Our assessment of consumer acceptability of traditional and innovative-traditional pork products from little-known local breeds across Europe will help pork producers develop the products and marketing strategies for high-quality pork products, says ÄŒandek-Potokar.
The project also designed a strategy for a European trademark to distinguish local, non-industrialised pig breeds, providing strong branding.
According to TREASURE, pig production systems of the future should be in line with available natural resources while focused on providing high-quality food products.