Does eating pork really cause cancer? Is free range the best choice? Karen Fittall answers the most common questions about the pork on your plate.
Pork is undoubtedly one of the most popular meats in the world. In fact, statistics show that globally, we consume one-and-a-half times more pork than beef. But pork has been a regular topic in the Australian media recently, with debates centred around its affordability, its possible link to cancer and controversial farming methods. So what should you consider when purchasing pork?
Does it cause cancer?
There’s been some confusion about pork recently, after the World Cancer Research Fund found a substantial link between some meat products and colorectal cancer. This refers specifically to processed meat products, including some pork products, such as bacon, ham and prosciutto. In keeping with general health recommendations, it’s a good idea to limit the amount of processed meats you consume. (If you do eat processed meats, aim to limit your intake to once per week, and consume them in small portions.)
Fresh pork, however, is a healthy option. In fact, it’s a good source of protein and contains a range of vitamins (such as B6, B12 and thiamin) and minerals (like zinc and selenium). Gram-for-gram, a lean, trimmed cut of pork (such as the loin, fillet or leg) has a similar fat content to a skinless chicken breast. Pork also has about one quarter of the iron found in red meat, making it a source of iron.
How do I choose Australian pork?
Regulations differ between fresh and processed pork products.
Fresh pork is guaranteed to be Australian, because any pork product that’s imported must be cooked first, due to our quarantine regulations.
Processed pork products (like ham and bacon) may not be Australian. To choose a product made from Australian pork, look for the ‘pink square’ (Australian Pork Limited’s official mark) – or the words ‘Product of Australia’. The words ‘Made in Australia’ don’t guarantee Australian produce – it can mean the product was processed in Australia, using foreign ingredients. If you are concerned, look for labelling that indicates the pork’s origin. For example, a label that states ‘Made in Denmark’ or ‘Made in Australia from local and imported ingredients’.
Should I buy ‘free-range’ pork, or is regular ok?
There are three main ways that pork is raised:
‘Sow-stall’ farming: The majority of Australian pork is bred using sow stalls; a metal-barred crate that houses a single sow for all or part of her 16-week pregnancy. This is the most affordable type of pork, although sow stalls remain a topic of controversy amongst animal rights activists.
‘Bred free-range’ farming: This means that the pig was born in a free-range environment (ie. minus the sow stalls), and then moved indoors to be raised either in an ‘ecoshelter’, which is a large barn with straw bedding, or under more conventional pig farming systems, which can involve small pens and concrete floors. If you choose a ‘bred free-range’ product from an RSPCA-approved farm, it means the pigs were raised in ecoshelters.This is a good choice if you’re concerned about animal welfare, but still watching your budget.
‘Free-range’ farming: Also known as ‘outdoor reared’ pork, ‘free-range’ means the pigs were born and raised with free access to the outdoors. Only five per cent of Australia’s pork is produced this way. It’s generally the most expensive type of pork, but arguably the best choice in terms of animal welfare.
At a glance
When buying pork, choose leaner cuts, like the loin, fillet and leg.
Processed pork products such as bacon and ham, have been linked to cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund advises that you limit your intake of these. We suggest having no more than one 100g serving per week.
All fresh pork is bred in Australia, but processed pork products may not be. Check the pack for ‘Country of Origin’ information.
If you want to buy Australian processed pork products, look for the ‘pink square’ or the words ‘Product of Australia’ on pack.
If you are concerned about animal welfare, look for free -ange pork. RSPCA -approved pork is another good option that’s more readily available (and affordable).
What is Australia’s stance on using sow stalls?
There are arguments both for and against sow stalls. Used for a variety of reasons (including to avoid aggression between pregnant sows and to reduce competition during feeding), the crate provides enough space for the pig to stand up, but not turn around. However, there is legislation in place to ensure that by 2017, a pregnant sow will not be housed in a stall for more than six weeks per pregnancy. Tasmania plans to ban them altogether by 2017.
In June this year, the country’s producer-owned national organisation, Australian Pork Limited (APL), announced a five-month consultation to gauge support for stopping the use of stalls altogether.
The RSPCA opposes them and Coles recently declared that all of its ‘Coles Butcher’ range will be sow-stall-free by the end of 2014, with the ‘change-over’ reportedly commencing next year. Woolworths is expected to follow suit, but has yet to make any announcement on its future plans.
Another way to be sure that pork is sow-stall free is to look for the ‘Paw of Approval’ on packaging; it indicates animals raised on an RSPCA-approved Farming Scheme farm. The RSPCA approves pork products from Gooralie Pork, Otway Pork, Primo Free Range and Coles Finest Free Range.