From the Editor
Apples or pork chops?
Pork from pigs raised in North America is wholesome. We in the swine industry do not have a hidden agenda. If someone were to ask me what we add to the pork chop in the packing plant, I would be happy to answer, “Nothing.” We raise our pigs in a healthy environment, feed them wholesome grains, and provide them with plenty of water. Pigs from our North American swine industries provide a healthy source of protein to the citizens of our countries and countries around the world where our pork is imported.
Last week, a friend of mine told me of visiting an apple processing plant. He talked about how gentle they were with the apples. The apples were picked by machines in the field and then placed in crates. At the processing plant, the crates were immersed in water so that the apples would float out – this was to prevent bruising. He said the water allowed for gentle handling.
I reflected on how we move pigs out of barns, up ramps, onto trucks, into plants, into holding pens, and then through the plant. The concept of gently floating or swimming through a warm pool of water was attractive to me. Swimming is my exercise of choice. If we thought of pigs as apples that could so easily bruise, would we handle them more gently? I am not encouraging us to turn walkways into moats. However, I am sure we have all seen pigs handled with patience and gentleness and others handled with more impatience and force. Perhaps as swine veterinarians we can advocate gentle handling when we are out doing our routine herd visits. It is likely that few of you visit farms during loading times, so it will have to be something you make a point of discussing.
Two years ago, I was doing a research project on transport of pigs. We were collecting observational data on the farms. Although Ontario pork producers have typically been cooperative with my on-farm work, they did not want two extra people in the barn at shipping time. It was clearly a stressful time for the producers and they did not want anything to add to the stress. Pigs do react differently around strangers. Finisher pigs often jump up and woof when I bring a group of students into the barn. In the farms we did visit, we saw some with corners where the pigs jammed up. The pigs would become overly excited and the barn personnel would get frustrated with the whole pig-moving exercise. In other farms, the whole pig-moving exercise looked easy. The walkway matched the floor of the pen, the area was well lit, there were no scary shadows or puddles of water, and the ramp was not too steep. These pigs typically loaded well, a little like the apples floating in the water.
My friend told me that after the apples were gently floated, washed, covered in wax, and polished to a shine, they were injected to keep them fresh and crisp and to lengthen shelf life. I was surprised and felt cheated. I do not mean to sensationalise this practice. I have no doubt that whatever they use is safe for the consumer to eat, but, as a consumer, I would like to be informed. What are they using, and do they use it in the apples that I buy?
I “Googled” apple processing to learn more about what is done in apple processing plants. I was not successful. First, I found an apple orchard that had been turned into a luxury resort. Then I found an article by Charlie Embree,1 who works in Kentville, Nova Scotia, for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. His article said that raising organic apples was complicated by insect problems and weed control. These farmers tried solving the insect infestations by organic methods, including traps, lures, and natural predators. They reduced the weed burden with hay, wood chips, and HOGS. These pigs also reduced the apple maggot populations by eating the apples that fell on the ground and by mulching fallen leaves.
We have a genetically modified (GM) research pig in Ontario called the Enviro- pig™. The Enviropig™ is not allowed in the food chain, nor are GM pigs allowed to be composted for fertilizer. Alive or dead, they are controlled. However, it is likely that the corn you ate last night and the tomato you ate in your lunch today were GM plants. For all I know, the last apple I ate was a GM organism (GMO). I don’t know which side of the GMO debate you sit on. I personally have no trouble with eating a GMO, but this whole apple and pork chop discussion leaves me feeling a little hard-done-by. Why is it that there is one set of rules for fruits and vegetables and another set for meat? I would like those of us in the food-producing industries to adopt a policy of shared information. If we routinely share information with the consuming public, they can make informed decisions about what they wish to eat. Most of us enjoy our pork chops with the apple sauce on the side.
1. Embree C. Organic processing apple production. Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada Web site. Available at: http://www.organicagcentre.ca/ResearchDatabase/res_processing_apple.html. Accessed 23 Jan 2007.