The pork industry has an outstanding record of improving efficiency and lean yield, but it needs a better plan to match emerging technologies with business goals that are in tune with a changing society, says an industry leader.
“Is the pork industry prepared for the future?” John Webb asked his audience at the 2011 Banff Pork Seminar. “I would say no,” he answered.
“The industry must be prepared to deal with continuing uncertainty. With all the focus on short-term survival, we need to direct resources to a longer-term strategy to compete with alternative sources of protein and understand and manage consumer attitudes to pork.
“We must look at some of the likely developments in technology and ask as an industry what strategy we should adopt going forward,” he says.
Webb is with Maple Leaf Foods, an industry leader in pork production and processing. His comments, he emphasized, were his own perspective rather than any official position of his company. They come from a lifetime of experience and substantial personal achievement in the pig industry and related sciences both in Canada and internationally.
On one hand, there is no denying the challenges the pork industry will face, says Webb. Consumer eating habits will continue to change. Obesity is a challenge. Pig production and processing will continue to be challenged on the environmental front, and livestock have been implicated in creating antibiotic resistance.
At the same time emerging technologies will offer opportunities and solutions.
Animal genetics will move from using genes as markers to a full understanding of gene function. Genetic improvement will be heavily based on DNA testing targeted toward function. DNA testing will be much cheaper and eventually hand held and on-the-spot.
Nutrigenomics, the science of tailoring food to genotype could allow personalized medicine, where knowing the genotype of a person or an animal allows an opportunity to optimize food choice. “This could be a golden opportunity to tailor the fatty acid or amino acid profiles of pork, creating a synergy between human and pork genomes,” says Webb. “The industry will need to be proactive on this because it could be a threat that meat could be genetically dubbed as ‘bad for you.’”
Last year saw the first designer bacteria produced entirely from man-made DNA. The science offers potential for everything from synthesizing ideal proteins and fats to controlling greenhouse gas emissions in effluent.
Food safety advances will come in revolutions at the packaging level. Eliminating bacteria such as Listeria from livestock is impossible, so the challenge will be tackled at the processing end.
Nanotechnology is some way off but holds promise and quantum biology could allow DNA sequences to be identified by their energy signature which would be read by electromagnetic waves. That might allow instant genotype and genomic selection of newborn piglets, control of pathogens or at processing, sorting carcasses based on nutritional properties.
“We need to innovate. That’s easy to say but more difficult to bring to life,” says Webb. “Innovation requires a change of mindset and a freedom to generate ideas. It is not just about technology. It is simply a new way of doing things such as finding a new market in the aging population.”
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