let's talk farm animals

Battle of the sexes

By Leslie Ballentine, Farming and food commentator

Just when I thought I had heard it all, the Globe and Mail recently carried a feature on “gendered meat”. What you ask (as did I) is such a thing? Well apparently there is a demand by some Canadian consumers for selecting their meat based on whether the animal is male or female.

In an interview with a high-end Toronto butcher, he said his customers are starting to ask for male chickens. That’s because they believe female birds have higher levels of naturally-occurring hormones that they want to avoid.

This urban myth was busted by a professor with the University of Guelph’s Department of Animal and Poultry Science. As he explained, most chickens raised for meat are sold before they reach sexual maturity when estrogens and testosterone hormones (as with people) begin to increase. Not to mention that any accumulated hormone dissipates fairly fast following slaughter and is unlikely to survive processing and cooking anyway. The fact is that low levels of hormones that are found in plants and animals doesn’t affect consumers’ health.

The co-owner of a poultry farm and retail store. in Abbotsford, B.C., says some customers ask specifically for roosters. But while roosters are typically larger, she says, it’s hard to spot the difference between processed male and female birds. “Even if you come to our store, I could guess that maybe our bigger ones are roosters,” she says, but “I don’t think, once they’re processed, there is any sure way to tell.”

Is this pork chop a boy or a girl?

The eating quality of male vs female animals is also open to debate. Depending on the species and the ages of the animals, however, these kinds of sex differences can be subtle - perhaps too subtle to require any differentiation in how they ought to be sold. And to some palates, they may not be detectable at all, the news feature reports.

I also learned that similar demand for pork is also starting to emerge. Just as with poultry, pigs are generally slaughtered before they reach maturity—too young for any noticeable hormone difference to develop. Male pigs are neutered to prevent off-putting boar taint, a taste and odour that develops as male pigs grow older. Anyone who has been around Tom Cat spray knows what I mean. Neutering also reduces testosterone and as with poultry, hormones aren’t likely to survive the processing  and cooking process.

Besides that, older pigs that are kept for breeding aren’t likely to be eaten as a fresh meat in the first place. Their meat is much more likely to be used for further processed products such as sausage.  Many farmers say even they can’t tell the difference in taste or eating quality between males that lack boar taint and female pigs.

So in the event that “gendered meat” becomes the next sensation. It should be “buyer beware”. And for those concerned about natural hormones in their diet, even though they needn’t be, they should focus on their intake of beer and cabbage which have about 2,000 times the natural hormones of “gendered meat”.

Until the Next Blog


Posted by FFC on April 23rd, 2012 :: Filed under Chickens,Consumers,Food,Misconceptions,Pork,Retailers
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