Electronic 'nose' will sniff out tainted pork

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A BRITISH company has developed the ultimate electronic nose to sniff out 'boar taint' - a peculiar odour in the meat from some male pigs.

The European Commission is considering a proposal from the European Parliament that British bacon and pork should be specially labelled because it sometimes carries a distinctive 'gamey' odour, exuded when the animal becomes sexually mature.

But the pounds 13m of automated sniffing systems being built by the technology management company, PA Consulting Group, are destined not for the British but the Danish meat industry.

Over the next 12 months PA Consulting, based in Melbourn, Cambridgeshire, will equip the Danish pork industry with 18 automated photospectrometer machines each costing about pounds 750,000 - to sniff out 'skatole', a chemical in the animal's fat which indicates boar taint.

Noah Freedman, from PA Consulting, said the taint develops in about 5 per cent of animals. Most countries have traditionally castrated male piglets. However, the castrated animals produce meat that is fattier and they are about 15 per cent less efficient in converting feed into bodyweight. Denmark, which produces about 16 million pigs a year, is gradually switching from raising castrates.

The Danes are particularly anxious about exports to Germany and they reckon the machines, which will ensure carcases with boar taint are removed, will recoup their cost in a year.

The British industry has no plans to follow the Danes, according to Alastair Cuthbertson, manager of meat sciences for the Meat and Livestock Commission. Some 90 per cent of British pigs are raised as entires, and the industry tries to minimise boar taint by slaughtering the pigs at a smaller bodyweight than is common on the Continent. Moreover, British consumers seem largely unaware of the odour.