Pork borrows from beef

Sep 7, 2012

The worlds of red meat are colliding as pork is picking up on a pair of advances made in the realm of beef.

A new reporting rule in pork price reporting will improve transparency with the public and allay producer concern, as well as having the potential to improve the dwindling price discovery for hogs. And adaptations made in tenderness-detection technology may well serve pork producers and pork consumers the same way the beef industry and beef lovers have benefited from it for years.

Required reporting

Though beef packers have been reporting the prices of wholesale cuts for years under the Livestock Mandatory Reporting Act (LMRA) of 1999, a recent USDA ruling is imposing the same requirement on pork packers.

When LMRA was passed in 2001, pork packers were not required to report the prices of wholesale cuts as beef packers were. However, recent pressure brought by the buyers of wholesale pork, and the continued decline of animals priced by cash negotiations, spurred the change.

The new rule—brought about by the Mandatory Price Reporting Act of 2010, which amended many elements of LMRA—requires packers to submit the price of each sale, quantity, and other characteristics of the sale of wholesale pork cuts. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) will use this information to produce market reports that will be disseminated to the public much as it is doing and has done for beef.

“Implementing the mandatory wholesale pork reporting program provides market participants with considerably more market information than they have had in the past,” said Craig Morris, the deputy administrator of the AMS Livestock and Seed Program, in the AMS official release on the decision.

“Further, a mandatory wholesale pork reporting program will ensure that accurate, unbiased market information is available to all market participants, ultimately benefiting consumers through improved price discovery in the sector.”

In their response to the move, commenters at CME shed some light on this latter point.

“Producers have always wanted a better picture of the value of their products in downstream markets but that interest has increased as the number of hogs for which a price is negotiated on a daily basis has declined.”

The percentage of hogs bought and sold via negotiation has been declining for well over 10 years. Recent reports shows it has been hovering around the 4 percent area for the past few years and saw a low of 2.5 percent in May of this year.

The official ruling can be read in its entirety by visiting ams.usda.gov and using the search phrase “wholesale pork price reporting.”

Tenderness technology

Beef has long been utilizing non-invasive tenderness prediction technology.

The process used with beef is based on visible and near-infrared reflectance (Vis/NIR) spectroscopy and a recent checkoff-funded study demonstrated that cooked-beef tenderness could be predicted from evaluations of raw beef. The potential of the technology has piqued the interest of the pork industry as well.

The same Vis/NIR technology is being investigated by the original Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and pork industry representatives for its applicability to predicting pork tenderness. Due to differences in the assessment of hog carcasses, the technology has had to be adapted. It is currently being tested in a number of pork processing plants to assess tenderness in pork loins.

According to a report in Agricultural Research produced by USDA and ARS, 1,800 boneless pork loins have been evaluated with the Vis/NIR technology. Samples from the tested loins were then cooked and classified using slice shear force, the most common objective mechanized method used to assess meat tenderness.

“Recent [National Pork Board] research has identified shear force as the predominant known factor determining pork-eating quality,” said Mark Knauer, past National Pork Board animal science director. “Therefore, successful development of a noninvasive tenderness-prediction system would allow the pork industry to develop guaranteedtender products and improve pork-eating quality.”

The beef industry has been able to take information regarding cooked-beef tenderness and use it in making breeding decisions. Knauer said he hopes the same is true for pork genetic selection if the technology is adopted by the industry. — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor