Saturday, November 8, 2008

Transformation of the Poland China

The effect of intensive selection over 12 years on the conformation of the Poland China Pig in changing from a lard to a bacon type (a) 1895-1912, (b)1913, (c)1915, (d)1917, (e) 1923.

There's a book available for preview via Google called "Lawrie's Meat Science" that shows in pictures how the Poland China, the closest thing America ever had to a Mangalitsa, went from being a lard-type hog to a bacon-type hog. The rate of change is fastest in the first few years.

The 2007 version is a meat-type:

Although the modern version and the original have the same name, the economic and eating characteristics of the breed are completely different. Articles like this one often don't mention that the popular heritage breeds have changed with the times.

Ultimately, the demise of original Poland China can't be blamed on Con Agra, Smithfield, Big Agriculture, the government, etc. Americans simply stopped wanting such pigs, at which point the breed had to change with consumer tastes or vanish.

The Mangalitsa is essentially the same as it was in the 1800s. It was able to survive in its original form because the Hungarian government paid to preserve the breed when lard went out of fashion. Specific foods are important to Hungarians, some of them made from pigs, so they preserved the Mangalitsa. The breed survives now because people want such hogs. If consumer tastes change again and they go through a period of tremendous deprivation, perhaps the breed will again be at risk.

Given that the Hungarians had to spend so much money to preserve the breed (and how they almost failed), I'm skeptical that the critically endangered American breeds will survive very long. The expense of running a breeding program, in order to preserve genetic diversity, ensures that the animals will become gradually more inbred, making them even less economic and worth rehabilitating. It is hard to imagine the government or any entity finding the money, year after year, to pay to preserve biodiversity.


Anonymous said...


The importance of preserving "heritage breeds" is not in preserving a type that is true to tradition, rather it is about maintaining genetic diversity. The modern bacon-type Poland China is still genetically different than a Tamworth, or a Gloucestershire Old Spot, or a Duroc, or etc.

I do share your concern over inbreeding in preservation programs, which is why I think it is important to raise animals that people want to eat, so that we can have large and economically viable breeding herds. The modern meat-types of what were once lard-types are still fattier than industrial lean pigs, and people love the "old time" flavor and juiciness, which means there is a market to preserve the breed genetics, in spite of the fact that the type has changed.

Heath said...

Stonybrookfarm -- Sadly, the modern Poland China isn't even the bacon-type that it was. That would be a step in the direction of preserving biodiversity. The modern Poland China is a meat-type hog, like all popular ones.

Looked at that way, the American market isn't preserving any breeds at all. Breeds mutate in response to market signals, or they vanish.

What's interesting is that when the market can preserve exotic breeds, like the Iberico, they get raised with modern methods.

Once there's a competitive market, you can't afford to be inefficient. Here's something from Spain (English translation ) about that - the small guys went broke, leaving only the big producers.

Also, even the Iberian herd is becoming (relatively) leaner. The Mangalitsa-like Lampino, is too fat for the market.

Given that Spain, which has a huge lard-type hog industry, can't preserve the Lampino, tells me that you can't expect industry to preserve biodiversity.

Anonymous said...

Stony, i agree with you. Heath missed your point.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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