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Integral improvement of pork meat through farm-level productive strategies and innovative online NIRS tools to classify a slaughterhouse level

Starting date: 05/06/2017 End date: 05/12/2020
Programme: Product quality

Financing entities:

The pig industry faces the important challenge of guaranteeing consistent quality to obtain a product with homogenous and regular characteristics throughout the year. The homogeneity of the product is often compromised by the intrinsic variability of animal farming, as well as by seasonal changes in our territory, with the hot seasons being the most critical due to the thermal stress that animals endure. This thermal stress, aside from its implications for the well-being of the animals, also triggers a reduction in yield and a less homogenous, more seasonal, and more variable production. In recent years, this problem has gained importance due to climate change, especially in vulnerable zones, such as the interior region of Catalonia, rendering it essential for the sector to take measures to mitigate its effects.

One such measure is the segmentation of production at the slaughterhouse level. The classification of the product into categories with different characteristics allows maximisation of the value of the production and guarantees consistent quality for each product segment. Currently, slaughterhouses have technologies that allow the classification of carcasses and primary cuts based on weight and total fat content. This classification is not only useful to establish the price of carcasses at the origin, but also to establish product categories targeted to specific markets. Despite this, there are no other non-destructive technologies that allow the monitoring of quality parameters online. Among these parameters, intramuscular fat content and fatty acid composition are two of the most relevant variables, since they have a direct impact on the organoleptic and nutritional properties of the product.

The main objective of this project is to improve the sensorial and nutritional quality of pork meat, and to ensure its regular and homogenous production throughout the year. To attain this objective, we have developed several innovative strategies for the current production system that will allow optimisation of the production process and will increase the economic value of the final product. On one hand, specific actions at the genetic, nutritional and handling levels will be implemented to globally improve the quality of the meat in terms of intramuscular fat content (higher level of infiltration) and of fat composition (higher content of polyunsaturated fat). We will also tackle the integration at the slaughterhouse level of a dynamic technology that enables the inspection and classification of prime matter. This technology, based on near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) will enable the online analysis of the characteristics of the product in a minimally invasive fashion, thus allowing the classification of the production into different categories.

Specifically, to achieve the main objective of improving the sensorial and nutritional quality of pork meat, and ensuring its regular and homogenous production, we must tackle the challenge on all fronts and with different agents of the chain. To this end, we envision the following preliminary objectives:

Objective 1. Increase in intramuscular fat to 4%.

Objective 2. Quantitative improvement of the fatty acid profile.

Objective 3. Reduction of variability: constant and homogenous quality throughout the chain.

Objective 4. Quantification and classification of the quality with dynamic NIRS-Online at the slaughterhouse

Objective 5. BIG DATA: Integration of data at the genetic, production and slaughterhouse levels.