THE pig industry faces a consumer backlash unless something is done to fix the problems of tough, dry pork and tainted bacon, producers warned at Australian Pork Limited's first annual general meeting last week.
They attacked the industry's decades-long drive for leanness which, coupled with the recent surge in exports, was flooding the Australian domestic market with boar meat.
Australia's new peak pig producers body agreed to investigate the eating qualities of pigmeat after Forbes producer Charles Harvey raised the issue of toughness and boar taint at the AGM in Canberra.
"Rising exports and the supply shortage are leading to poor quality boar meat going onto the domestic market," he said.
"It's lean, with a high muscle content, but it's dry and not very good to eat and a fair percentage of entire males have boar taint.
"We're facing static domestic consumption now but if more people are eating boar meat it may well be our domestic consumption goes backwards.
"We're producing a food product but what's the point if no-one wants to eat the stuff?"
Mr Harvey called for boar meat to be removed from the Australian market.
"Some people might have to be led kicking and screaming but as an industry we're cutting our own throat if we don't do something," he warned.
Unlike cattle and sheep, Australian pigs are not castrated because they grow faster and leaner and can meet domestic market specifications more easily and more cheaply as boars. Entire males are also preferred by smallgoods processors.
But the meat they produce can be dry and tough and in isolated cases, particularly with bacon, can suffer from a pungent smell known as boar taint.
The number of boars on the Australian domestic market is growing because most of our exports ‹ currently 13 per cent of production ‹ are gilts (young females).
"In terms of eating quality if you were making sure every post was a winner this would be an area you'd be attending to," APL general manager for marketing, Ray North, said.
He had heard of only three or four cases of boar taint in the past 12 months but "you don't really want to have any".
"I've only had one experience myself with boar taint ‹ with bacon ‹ and I nearly had to leave the house."
Mr North said Australia's English heritage with its liking for rind-on Wiltshire-style bacon was a major barrier to change.
Castrated males or barrows produced bacon that was too fatty unless it was trimmed and sold as a rindless product.
In the US, where pigs were grown out to much heavier weights and rind-on products were rare except for pork roasts, all male pigs were castrated and Mr North would like to see Australia follow suit.
"We'd also like to see bigger weights, which would enable us to sell and promote the more muscular cuts which are of better eating quality because there's more marbling," he said.
Nigel Smith, an APL director and Bunge's general manager, sales and processing, called on Australian processors to produce rindless bacon "like the rest of the world".
Smallgoods producer John Harris, Castlemaine Bacon, pointed out that rindless bacon was already on the market, albeit at a higher price, and said it was up to the consumer to choose.
APL chairman Paul Higgins acknowledged that there was strong support for action in the medium term.
A motion calling on APL to investigate ways of improving the eating quality of pigs was carried unanimously.