By Marcy Nicholson
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — A Canadian company is selling bacon that it makes rich with omega-3 fatty acids through a technique that takes the expression “You are what you eat” literally.
Prairie Orchard Farms markets pork roasts, ribs, chops and bacon from hogs raised on omega-3 diets.
“As far as we know, we’re the first in the world to do this,” said Willy Hoffman, Prairie Orchard Farms president.
Omega-3 compounds are polyunsaturated fatty acids that may reduce the risk of heart disease in people. They are found naturally in some fish and nuts, and are deemed by government agency Health Canada to be an essential part of a person’s diet.
Prairie Orchard, which is based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, researched hog feed for six years before it started selling the product in 2004. The following year, Prairie Orchard was certified for selling meat containing a minimum 0.3 grams of omega-3 per 100 grams (3.5 oz) by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Prairie Orchard sells about 25,000 kilograms (55,000 lb) of its unique pork cuts, sausage and bacon weekly to small grocery stores in three Canadian provinces, and aims to expand its market to the rest of the country as well as Japan, China and the United States.
Prairie Orchard Farms buys hogs that are fed flax that naturally contains omega-3 fatty acids, and a secret combination of vitamins and minerals. Higher production costs raise the purchase price about 25 percent above conventional pork, Hoffman said.
“Omega-3s are part of the fat, so the higher the fat content the higher the omega-3 content,” Hoffman said.
So while Prairie Orchard’s leaner cuts such as ham contain an average of 0.4 grams of omega-3 per 100 grams, fatty cuts like bacon average 2 g/100g.
“That’s considered an excellent source (of omega-3). It might be a reason to buy that product instead of just a regular one. It’s making it healthier,” said Susan Whiting, University of Saskatchewan nutrition professor.
The Institute of Medicine recommends nutrient intake for Canada and the United States, and has not established recommended intake levels for omega-3s, but it says that up to 1 gram of such fatty acids daily could provide health benefits, Health Canada spokesman Paul Duchesne said.
Intake levels associated with health risks are not well established, and excessive amounts of certain omega-3 compounds could suppress immune systems, slow blood clotting and increase the risk of a hemorrhagic stroke, Duchesne said.
U.S. scientists announced recently they had genetically engineered pigs to produce omega-3s but it is uncertain whether the product will be approved for sale in grocery stores.
Other items on the market that contain omega-3 through various processing techniques include eggs, milk and yogurt.