Lacombe researchers work to improve meat industry

International scientists apply their knowledge at federal research centre.

CUTTING EDGE - Researcher Heather Standing uses a machine to shear raw pork samples in order to test for texture and tenderness.

CUTTING EDGE - Researcher Heather Standing uses a machine to shear raw pork samples in order to test for texture and tenderness.

Most Lacombians are familiar with the federal research centre on the southeast edge of the City. However, many of them may not be familiar with exactly what kind of work is done at the facility.

Manuel Juârez, livestock phenomics scientist for the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research centre in Lacombe and one of the centre’s acting directors.

He said that the programs and projects of the research centre might actually be better known outside the country. A native of Câdiz, Spain, Juârez said he heard of the programs in Lacombe long before moving to Canada and it was actually those projects that brought him here.

“The research station is more famous outside Canada sometimes.”

Juârez went on to say that he is not the only scientist at the centre that has come from outside the country. He said there are other researchers from Spain as well as researchers from China, Pakistan, Iran, Venezuela, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Mexico, just to name a few.

He added that many of these scientists come to Lacombe on their own dollar just to learn from researchers at the Lacombe research station.

Lacombe’s research centre is one of 18 across the country. Each one of them has its own mandate and special area of expertise.

There are two sides to the research at the Lacombe research centre, crops and meats. As the titles imply, the crops side works with agricultural crops like wheat, canola, barley and even weeds. The meats side works with raising livestock for human consumption and ways to improve that meat.

This is the side Juârez works with. Currently, he is involved in a project to optimize Canadian pork quality through a number of strategies.

“We try to improve the systems so the meat industry benefits because we can give them the tools to produce better meat. The consumers benefit because they have a higher quality product, producers benefit because they have tools to be more efficient.”

In essence, Juârez and others involved in the project are working to improve everything about pork.

From how to raise it faster and more efficiently, to how to make it taste better, to how to make it cheaper, to how to improve its nutrition.

There are a number of ways that Juârez and fellow researchers try to do this. They look at different cooking methods, different storage methods, different feed and rearing methods for the animals, all in attempts to increase the quality of all the parts of the animal we eat; chops, ribs and of course, bacon.

Juârez is an expert in the field of phenomics.

That is, he studies how living things (in the case of the optimizing pork project – pigs) are affected by both genetic and environmental influences. As one can imagine, this field is very important to the study and to the industry of meat production.

The animals involved in the study are controlled since before birth. Juârez said the animals are produced through artificial insemination and all aspects of their raising are controlled by the research centre.

After the pigs are old enough to be butchered, researchers experiment with different ways of storing, cooking and preparing the meat. They also look at the colour, texture, marbling and other features of the meat to test its quality, said Juârez.

Researchers use the same tactics to raise, test and improve other meats as well, like mutton, beef, bison or elk, said Juârez. Sometimes, they purchase other animals or other meat products from other markets to compare them as well, he added.

Federal researchers are not the only ones who get to benefit from the knowledge and research at the Lacombe research centre either. Juârez said that food scientists from other organizations working in meat production, for example Cargill, come to the centre to learn about meat production, preservation and preparation methods.

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