The impact of selecting on FCR on pork quality

Derek Petry, Ph.D.

The discussion around pork quality has been going on for years, yet little has been done to do anything about it, genetically speaking. Newman (2015) concluded that there is a considerable amount of variation in meat quality within package, retail store, and region. Yet we are surprised that the demand for pork in North American has been stagnant for decades. The problem with pork is the inconsistent eating experience consumers have. USDA-AMS has outlined a quality grading system to remedy this problem and give the consumer what they want – a consistent eating experience. The most important attribute for pork quality found in consumer studies for fresh retail was taste of the product (Lusk et al., 2016). In this same study, USDA labeling for quality grade (Prime, Choice, and Select) consumers indicated they would be more willing to increase pork consumption if implemented. As a genetic supplier, one of the first topics discussed in any meeting is feed conversion ratio (FCR) and rarely is pork quality or eating experience mentioned because “we don’t get paid on that”. While not a very easy value to calculate, it is important to know the relationship between FCR and pork quality.

There is a myth that selecting for quality or eating experience causes pigs to be inefficient at the farm production level. This is NOT true, rather it is just a bit more difficult than selecting on just FCR and lean growth because genetic companies have more phenotypes to collect, as well as examine the relationships between FCR, lean growth, and pork quality then must implement in the selection strategy of the line. Thus, cost of gain (optimal FCR) in conjunction with pork quality is better for consumer demand and driving profitability than lowest FCR.

Data presented by Lonergan (2015) at the International Conference on Feed Efficiency in Swine was compelling on the negative impacts of pork quality by selecting on FCR. The most valuable cut on the pig (belly) had a decreased yield, along with decreased Marbling in the loin, and the loin was less tender. Also, the color of the loin was paler, using the Minolta, by selecting on FCR. Why is this occurring? The answer is selection for lower FCR has increased Calpastatin activity, which inhibits Calpain activity. After pigs are harvested the muscle fibers begin to break down via Calpain, making the meat more tender. Thus, meaning if Calpain is reduced then the meat will be tougher. The selection on lean yield and FCR has also started changing the ratio of red to white muscle fiber types to whiter or twitch fibers. This also adds to the toughness of the meat and makes it be paler. Because there are unfavorable correlations between these traits (FCR and lean yield with marbling and color) then all of these traits have to be included in the index to make improvements or maintain the level they are at. Since most genetic providers focus on FCR as a main trait in their index, they have pushed down meat quality. The other question we have to ask is what is the impact on the other primal cuts? We know shoulders and hams have a lot of twitch muscles as well, so have we negatively impacted those cuts?

Genesus is constantly testing for pork quality and has been doing so since 1998. The focus has always been to never sacrifice taste, tenderness or juiciness just to achieve quicker improvement on a single trait, like FCR. Genesus includes marbling in the selection index in addition to lean yield and growth efficiency, thus making a product competitive on the production cost side while maintaining an excellent eating experience. In a genetic selection program, you have to have a long-term vision and not be narrowly focused on the present.

Lonergan, S. (2015). Impact of multigenerational selection for improved feed efficiency on pork quality. International Conference on Feed Efficiency in Swine – ICFES 2015.
Lusk, J., G. Tonsor, T. Schroeder, and D. Hayes. (2016). Consumer Validation of Pork Chop Quality Information. Prepared for the National Pork Board.
Newman, D. (2015). National Pork Retail Benchmarking Study. National Pork Board Research abstract: #11-163.

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This post was written by Genesus