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Smelly pigs: A solution for the pork on your plate

Among the gripes about the economic stimulus package has been pork for porkers – $1.7 million earmarked to study smelly pigs. Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain listed the program as among the “Top 10 Porkiest Projects” in the bill, and columnists chimed in, too. “Hey, Iowa researchers, I have one word for you: Febreze,” columnist Laura Rowley wrote on Yahoo Finance last month following passage of the $787 billion legislation.

While one might argue that foul odors come with pig territory, the smell is a quality of life issue for people who live near them, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) noted when he defended the project. But foul pig smells are also bad for business: so-called boar taint – the odor you might notice when savoring a link of sausage or strip of bacon – is a turnoff for consumers.

Boar taint (it might smell like urine, feces or sweat) comes from compounds produced by pigs’ testes. The conventional way of dealing with the problem is to castrate the piglets, or breed female pigs.

It turns out, though, that another form of boar taint control exists already – an immunization made by Pfizer’s animal health division that primes a pig to make antibodies against a protein called GnRF. Those antibodies then interfere with the function of the piggies’ testes – and the buildup of boar taint compounds that come with it. (Thanks to Ed Silverman for pointing out this form of boar taint control this morning via Twitter.)

The shots, called Improvac and approved in 23 countries (but not the U.S.), aren't said to mitigate the pig odor problem McCain and Harkin were talking about, though, which stems from p-cresol and other noxious gases concentrated in manure. A spokesperson for Pfizer Animal Health, Dan Martz, said the company does believe Improvac reduces the amount of feed pigs need to get them to the weight producers desire. We’ve got the lowdown on pig odor – and you won’t even need to hold your nose.

Last paragraph updated at 3:30 p.m. April 2 with comment from Pfizer Animal Health and additional information about immunization against boar taint. Also corrects size of stimulus package to $787 billion from $787 million.

Image by Guido Gerding via Wikimedia Commons

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