Hogs and bacteria. Appetizing? You'd be surprised.
Eva Liu should be the poster girl for the Chinese woman
who has it all: Ownership of a thriving business, loving family life, beauty and of course, a fabulous wardrobe. What Ms Liu is crafting is not the latest in couture, however, but is revolutionary and groundbreaking nevertheless: Designer pork.
Ms Liu's business, Guangdong JBC Biological Technology Co., Ltd. was established in 2002 and is devoted to the research, development, promotion and application of the latest biological technology. The company's most successful biological development is a not so new, but its application is. Lactobacillus Acidophilus, or lacto, has been around as long as the world has, and is the most widely used probiotic, or "friendly bacteria." It looks very similar to white talcum powder and has only a very faint scent. Lacto protects against harmful organisms from entering the body via unhygienic or poorly prepared food. When consumed, lacto (found primarily in dairy products, in particular, yogurt) suppresses disease-causing bacteria found in the intestines. Its use varies from aiding digestion to treating diarrhea, but is most commonly used to treat vaginal yeast infections, urinary tract infections and bladder inflammations.
Lactobacillus and other probiotics have been used by acne sufferers to control outbreaks since 1964 and have been included in most skin care products under the belief that beauty works from the inside, out. By taking lactobacillus internally, it cleans out the intestinal tract, killing "bad bacteria." What remains is a healthy body and radiant complexion.
Lacto's newest beneficiaries are not people, but pigs. JBC lactobacillus (a different strain from that found in yogurt) changes the way pigs are raised, and offers pork lovers better quality meat while remaining environmentally friendly.
Eat like a pig
China is the number one producer and consumer of pork in the world, with 970 million hogs being consumed every year. Unfortunately, traditional or "backyard" agricultural methods are primitive and harmful to the end consumer, not to mention hazardous to the environment.
"The air that we breathe, the water we drink, all the necessities that human beings cannot live without are being destroyed and becoming harmful to us," says Liu. "I just don't like what I see and it needs to change." Although industrialization and mass production of livestock creates convenience, these are the very things that destroy natural resources.
"Traditional pig farmers work to sell their pigs, ignoring the environmental issues. They're just not socially responsible for what they do or the quality of the pig raised," says Jiang Zhiguan, president and research scientist of JBC's New Technology Research Institute in Japan. In many rural areas in China, farmers raise pigs in a "backyard" fashion using a recycling system: Pigs are fed with leftover food as well as other pigs' and livestock leftovers. While this system is hardly wasteful, it is the perfect breeding ground for virus and disease, not to mention revolting. But it's the norm, since raising livestock is a means of supplementing a family's income and a quick way to make extra yuan. It's enough to make even the most diehard shui zhu rou (water boiled pork) fan's stomach curdle. And it doesn't stop there.
"Each day, the amount of bacteria that is being digested by pigs is eight times the amount of humans," says Ms Liu. "China is an agricultural country with many uneducated farmers, and the only way to protect their livestock investment is to use antibiotics to make sure that the pigs don't become sick and die," she says. "They [farmers] don't care about the quality of pigs raised, they just care about reaching the desired quantity. It's all about quantity versus quality and it's the quality of course, that is more important."
The results of this mass production of pork are detrimental to both consumers and the environment. "The use of antibiotics is the most harmful," he says. "When humans consume pork that has been pumped with antibiotics, we in turn are digesting these antibiotics, which is unsafe for our own digestive system. Our aim is to practice superior breeding methods that are both ecological and human friendly," says Jiang.
The birth of Sakura pork Through persistence, effort, and hours of research, Ms Liu, Professor Jiang and JBC research scientists discovered a new way of pig raising. If lactobacillus is added to pig feed, the lucky swine grow in a healthy, organic way, without the mandatory use of antibiotics or chemicals, resulting in a higher yield than traditional pigs, which is good news for farmers, the environment and more importantly, pork-lovers.
Visitors to the JBC pig shelter in Guangzhou will find nothing primitive: There is no need to wear heavy protective suits and footwear, no fluorescent lighting, no battery-pig-pen feel, and no unbearable odor lingering in the air. In fact, the only thing lingering is the thought that the pigs live in happier surroundings than most visitors.
"Our methodology is to mix lactobacillus with the feeding grains," says Jiang. "This makes it easier to feed animals, but we still follow strict guidelines when feeding the pigs." Feeding time at the JBC farm is all about criteria and timing. JBC阵 patented lactobacillus is mixed into the feeding grains, according to a seven-step method. Lacto is also added to the pigs drinking water and they also bathe in the water. Every 30 minutes, a sprinkler suspended from the roof mists lacto-infused water on the pigs for 2 seconds," says Jiang. "In turn the lacto water kills germs and bacteria and doesn't destroy the waterway. It's truly kind to the environment."
The result is packaged and marketed as Sakura pork because of the color similarity between the lacto pork and the Japanese flower, sakura. According to one lacto pig convert, the taste is pure bliss. "The main reason being I don't like the strong smell and taste that is often associated with eating or preparing pork," says 34-year-old Robyn Preston. "When I tried Sakura pork, I was more than surprised and couldn't believe it was pork," she says. "It's very lean, and didn't need to be eaten with condiments. It tasted delicious on its own without any lingering after taste like regular pork. Even the saucepan water was clear, no oil or fat residue."
Lacto pigs weigh 18% more than traditionally raised pigs and have a higher yield, which is good news for pig farmers. Sakura pork sells for 44 yuan per 100 grams in Japan. Regular pig intestine has to be disregarded, due to the dangerous chemical residue. Lacto-treated Sakura pork pig intestine sells for 160-192 yuan per kilogram. "We invited the Osaka Research Center to run tests, and they found that the intestines had no odor and no odor means no bacteria," says Jiang. Regular pork cannot be eaten raw, but Sakura pork can be eaten in a similar fashion to sashimi, which is good news for Japanese consumers.
In praise of pork
Sakura Pork has passed quality inspections by the Agricultural Quality Inspection Center in Guangzhou with flying colors. JBC also asked the South China Agricultural University to conduct research examining the pigs' growth from birth. "Most of the professors were hesitant at first because we don't administer antibiotics in the pigs' feed," says Jiang. In order to get the researchers on board, JBC entered into a contract that stated for each pig that became ill and died, they would pay 1278 yuan. The results were well above international standards. Ms Liu says that achieving excellent results doesn't mean its time to slack off.
"I choose to do this kind of work because I believe I have to do the 'right thing'," she says. "I do not do it to impress people, but rather, I live by one important principle: Strike the balance between social responsibility and economic benefits. I'm sold on the idea of helping these farmers get better returns for their livestock and also giving consumers safe pork." JBC receives no monetary assistance from the Chinese government and relies solely on support from colleagues and friends. Money raised goes straight back into the company to fund further research. "We receive support from the Osaka government and we want the Chinese government to give us their blessing in the future. Gradually I hope that we can change the way pigs are raised and the culture of eating pork."
Looking to the future
JBC has a number of other developments in the works. Here is a small sampling.
Waste from the Lacto pig farm is being used as organic fertilizer at lychee plantations in Sanya, Hainan Island in south China. The lifespan of a lychee grown using the lacto fertilizer increases by 40 days. The fruit becomes ripe in May and picking can take place in mid-July instead of June, yielding a higher price for riper, plumper fruit. This same method is currently under research for use on vegetable patches as well as fruit plantations.
One of the biggest concerns in today's hospital system is the safe and ecological disposal of hospital waste, namely syringes. JBC addresses this problem with the Eco Angel 2000, a waste disposal unit that not only kills germs, but also recycles plastic syringes - a mere dream a few years ago.
Mobile units collect plastic syringe buckets from hospitals and clinics and are placed into a machine that compresses the bucket into a flat circle - similar to a pizza. This process takes seven minutes. The flat pizza is then put into a second machine that automatically separates the plastic from the needle, which can then be recycled into oil and used to fuel farm machinery.
Still under development, this solar-energy-powered machine aims to not only cut grass and crops, but also removes bugs and bacteria as it goes.