A new value-added marketing trend is increasing the omega-3 fatty acid content in food products aimed to improve cardiovascular health. Omega-3 fatty acids are not only associated with heart health, but may also improve the immune system and reduce the risk of developing some cancers. Eggs, meat and dairy products enriched with omega-3 fatty acids are now available to the Canadian consumer. These products are enriched by feeding animals flax seed or canola, which are sources of omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Only a few Canadian companies currently produce pork enriched with omega-3 fatty acids.
Scientists at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) are helping the industry evaluate and develop new systems to enrich food products with omega-3 fats. Dr. Mike Dugan and Dr. Jennifer Aalhus, AAFC scientists at the Lacombe Research Centre in Alberta, are collaborating with Dr. Ruurd Zijlstra at the University of Alberta and Dr. John Patience and Dr. Denise Beaulieu at the Prairie Swine Centre in Saskatoon, Sask. on a series of four projects feeding flaxseed to pigs to enrich pork with omega-3 fatty acids. This research is funded by the Saskatchewan Agriculture Development Fund and Flax 2015.
“Flaxseed contains about 40 per cent oil and is one of nature’s richest oilseed sources of omega-3 fatty acids,” explains Dugan. “Our research with the University of Alberta has developed a technique of co-processing flaxseed with field peas to maximize the availability of omega-3 fatty acids fed to pigs. Now our focus is on developing a successful flaxseed feeding program to enrich pork with omega-3 fatty acids and evaluating the quality and acceptability of pork end products.”
But, says Dugan, “There are limits to the level and duration that flax can be fed before it negatively impacts animal growth and feed utilization. While feeding flaxseed to pigs enriches omega-3 fatty acids in pork, levels of omega-3 fatty acids can differ from tissue to tissue, and higher levels can lead to problems with pork processing and can negatively affect pork quality, palatability and oxidative stability.” The team’s research continues to establish best feeding practices to enrich pork cuts with targeted levels of omega-3 fatty acids required to claim an omega-3 enrichment (for example, 300 mg per 100 g of pork) and establish the optimal start and finish weights for pigs to achieve desired levels of omega-3 fatty acids.