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Swine Cluster 4 (2023-2028)

Activity 18 | Pork Quality

Enhancing pork belly quality across the value chain

Project Lead: Manuel Juarez, AAFC (Lacombe)

Status: Ongoing

Why is this project important?

Researchers have been working for years on different ways of measuring pork quality and classifying various primal cuts (the pig is initially broken down into four main pieces or ‘primal cuts’: the shoulder, loin, side/belly, and leg. These primal cuts are then cut into sub-primal cuts such as rib roast, tenderloin, and pork belly). One cut that received less study was the pork belly, thanks to the low market price it commanded.

Today, however, the belly is one of the most expensive cuts of the pig carcass. As a result, it must be a key focal point for science. Pork belly accounts for about 9% of live weight, 12-17% of chilled carcass weight and approximately 15-20% of the total carcass value, so it comprises a large economic portion of pigs’ carcasses. In North America and some other parts of the world, pork bellies are the major raw material for bacon production. Recent diversified usage for bacon in the home, foodservice and restaurants have also contributed to the growth in demand for pork bellies. Consequently, the value of pork bellies continues to increase in North America.

In addition to the study and evaluation of pork bellies, there is also a dearth of activity on the possibility of using genetic selection to promote certain desirable traits in these cuts.


What will researchers do?

  • Compile sufficient data to examine genetic characteristics of pork belly quality traits.

  • Assess the potential heritability of pork belly quality traits and their genetic correlation with other traits such as lean meat yield and marbling.

  • In order to amass the necessary data, researchers will work with the genetics company Genesus to acquire a sufficient number of crossbred pigs and their accompanying genotypes (their complete set of genetic material) and phenotypes (their set of observable characteristics). The project will evaluate everything from pedigree and genetics to performance and feed intake.

  • They will then slaughter 500-600 pigs per year and examine a range of meat quality traits, with a focus on pork bellies.

  • Additionally, researchers will work with purebred pigs and their genotypes to compile data on carcasses, especially bellies. In collaboration with the Canadian Center for Swine Improvement (CCSI), they will also perform ultrasounds on the backs and bellies of these animals to isolate the genetics they require.


What will be the benefit of this research?

By identifying which traits related to pork belly quality have the potential for genetic selection, the project can advise industry partners and pig genetic companies on which aspects to prioritize.  

This study should also support those partners and companies in achieving a balanced selection index, where they continue selecting for key elements like productivity while also having a positive impact on pork belly quality traits.

If researchers are able to establish proof of concept that they can select for pork belly quality traits without sacrificing production traits, they will publish this information and make it accessible to producers and genetic companies. In doing so, they will aid the sector in addressing the quality of the most expensive primal cut.

Because pork bellies are often sold at a premium, both domestically and around the world, the project should give Canadian producers a competitive advantage and assist them in acquiring more of those premiums over time.


What has been done so far?

The project began in April of 2023, and researchers have already gathered considerable data from previous SIP studies, including belly data on 2000 pigs. They also collated commercial data with Genesus in 2023 and produced, slaughtered and processed over 500 pigs. This should give them a good head start moving forward.

Project status:

Currently in progress. Results expected in 2028.



  • Graham Plastow. University of Alberta.

  • Laurence Maignel, Canadian Centre for Swine Improvement (CCSI)

  • Mohsen Jafarikia, CCSI

  • Brian Sullivan, CCSI

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