Eating quality seen as pork's No.1 challenge By TIFFANY CAMAC A HIGHLY competitive food market that meets consumer needs is the key to the future success of the Australian pork industry. This was the message from Agriculture WA research officer Dr Darryl D'Souza when he addressed the National Nutrition Conference held in Fremantle recently. Dr D'Souza said the industry must examine some of the factors affecting the eating quality of pork that in turn may influence future pork consumption. He said any increase in pork consumption in Australia must to a large extent depend on the pork industry's ability to meet the consumers' need for all these attributes. Pork eating quality is sensory on palatability traits such as tenderness, juiciness, flavour and aroma, but consumers will always buy what looks good. "Consumers have very little confidence when it comes to the eating quality of pork," he said, adding that the dilemma for the pork industry was that what looked good didn't always taste good. Dr D'Souza said, against falling red meat consumption, the number of Australians eating pork had increased by 79 per cent in the past 60 years, but had slowed considerably in more recent years. Growing from humble beginnings, pork consumption had gone from four kilograms per person per year to 19kg/person/year. Dr D'Souza said, despite this, health concerns and the introduction of lean pork hadn't helped pork eating quality, with consumers now rating pork as being tough, dry, having unacceptable odours and was the least preferred behind beef, lamb, chicken and fish. Lean pork now meant less intramuscluar (IM) fat, which played a big part in pork eating quality, with IM fat improving flavour, juiciness, and to a lesser extent tenderness. Factors such as the high incidence of pale, soft, exudative (PSE) pork, low marbling, boar taint, and inadequate ageing were factors seen as affecting the quality of Australian pork, therefore affecting consumer perceptions. The effect of boar taint was to give pork a urine or perspiration-like odour or flavour, with Dr D'Souza saying consumer sensitivity to boar taint was increasing. With androstenone and skatole the major compounds responsible for boar taint, produced through using the whole male pig, the only way to eliminate it was by castration. Dr D'Souza said the Australian pork industry had the potential to be an important supplier of quality pork, but more importantly it must seek to better understand the needs of consumers and consistently deliver pork of the highest quality. This includes the increasing export market for pork. While the Australian pork industry has traditionally been a domestic supplier only, the outbreak of disease in Taiwan and Malaysia in the past two years has given Australia the chance to export to areas previously supplied by these countries, such as Singapore and Japan. Dr D'Souza said, while Australia's export market was still in its infancy stage, exports had grown from $8000 in January 1999 to $9 million in January 2000. "If the Australian pork industry is to build on its export market in Asia and at the same time protect or increase its domestic market, significant steps must be taken to consistently produce pork that is of high quality," he said. In terms of what the pork industry was now doing to rectify consumer negatives, he said they were into phase one of the pig R&D national eating quality program and had introduced Flavoursure in WA.