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Rare pig breed resurrected for ham lovers

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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magalica pigIf you like ham, the Spanish food company La Tienda is betting you’ll just love the meat from the Hungarian Mangalica pig, a rare breed that almost disappeared less than 20 years ago.

The distinctive Mangalica pig—known as much for its curly hair as for its fatty flesh—was saved so it can be sold and eaten.

At one time, only 198 purebred pigs remained in the world. Farmers preferred other breeds. "The corpulent Mangalica grows very slowly and cannot be kept in closed quarters. It is therefore poorly suited to modern industrial pig farms, and it has been gradually replaced by modern breeds," according to the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity in Florence, Italy.

The resurrection of the Mangalica has been the mission of Juan Vicente Olmos, the head of Spain’s Monte Nevado ham company, and geneticist Peter Tóth, who tracked and purchased the last pigs from farms scattered throughout Hungary. After less than two decades of intense breeding, the Mangalica population has now increased one-hundred-fold, with 20,000 pigs living in Spain and Hungary.

If you’re hungry for Mangalica ham, it’ll cost you, though. A nine-pound ham goes for $490.

Meanwhile, the resurrection of the Mangalica has become a matter of pride in Hungary, where there is now an annual Mangalica Festival devoted to the pig (and its hams, salamis, sausages and other meat products).

Of course, a breed (like the Mangalica) is not a species, so it couldn’t technically go extinct. Still, the salvation of the pig and its unique genes remains a victory. The Mangalica may not be suited to modern commercial livestock production, but it does contain genes that don’t exist elsewhere. Some of those genes make it more suitable to cold, mountainous regions. Who knows when and where those rare genes could be of use?

And obviously, trying to save endangered creatures by eating them is, in most situations, a ludicrous idea. But at least in this case, it seems to have worked.



Image: Hungarian Mangalica Pig via
La Tienda

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  1. 1. Soccerdad 3:27 pm 06/24/2009

    I have a question about the organization named in the article; the "Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity". Are they on a strict diet of slow animals and plants like turtles and, well, most plants? Or is it food that grows slowly or cooks slowly? Come to think of it, most of the food I like is slow – cows, pigs etc. But fish is good too, and most of them are fast.

    I guess it takes all kinds of people to fill the world. Some care about technology, some politics, some the environment and others slow food. I’ll bet their conventions are pretty exciting.

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  2. 2. Jen 4:09 pm 06/24/2009

    Thank you, Soccerdad. That made my day!

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  3. 3. Al Link 4:12 pm 06/24/2009

    Bravo on saving this interesting animal. Has anyone though of a sweater knitted from pig fur?

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  4. 4. Al Link 4:13 pm 06/24/2009

    How about pig fur sweaters?

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  5. 5. alphachapmtl 4:19 pm 06/24/2009

    Resurrecting of the Mangalica pig so it can be eaten.
    That’s love! (oh the humanity…)

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  6. 6. sapbucket 4:23 pm 06/24/2009

    slow food is the opposite of fast food. It doesn’t have anything to do with the speed of the animal.

    Oh geeze I have no sense of humor if your were being funny.

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  7. 7. dinobill 4:37 pm 06/24/2009

    Great Self-analysis sapbucket

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  8. 8. dinobill 4:39 pm 06/24/2009

    Great self-analysis sapbucket

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  9. 9. KMWillis 7:23 am 06/25/2009

    I almost clicked "report abuse" instead of reply.

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  10. 10. nitya 10:52 am 06/25/2009

    There is a guy growing these pigs in NJ, and I think there may be some in WA. And I suspect slow food conventions would be pretty delicious – whats not to love about a bunch of people getting together over great food and wine!

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  11. 11. EcoRII 11:17 am 06/26/2009

    has anyone sequenced its genome?

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  12. 12. EcoRII 11:21 am 06/26/2009

    Did they sequence its genome?

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  13. 13. Uncle B 12:30 pm 07/29/2009

    Next we need to do Aquaculture to feed the masses! Just think! Cheapest protein possible (fish) Veggies too boot! and good fertilizer for a potato crop in the sludge – practically inviting a "Fish ‘N Chips" stand on a road-side! and all from grain the fish eat! A tasty pig is neat, but we need to Bi-gas his poop and offal, and run the consumer gas in our carbon fiber hybrid two seater super commuters too! See the "Carver" this is the beginning of something new for all of us! America, the Great Paradigm Shift" is upon you, and you will not believe where you are going, Earth Ark homes and all! We will be ready for the next "downturn" with a vengeance!

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  14. 14. jaqcp 9:02 pm 07/30/2009

    Though it initially seems counterproductive to "save" animals just to slaughter them, history has proven that the only animals we work to protect are those which offer us a tangible value of some sort. One specific example is hunting. The best way to protect a species is to create a hunting season for it, as such brings it under greater scrutiny and regulation by the local Fish and Game departments who then must count the species and determine the optimal numbers to harvest and ensure survival of the species. Without exception, the result is increased interest in hunting, which increases revenue that is then spent on the species being hunted.

    When turkeys were nearly annihilated in Kansas, Fish and Game reintroduced them in the 1920′s. The first regulated "season" harvested 5 birds. Now, through money and protections which resulted from fees and regulations, the turkey population continues to burgeon eventhough more than 50K+ are harvested by hunters alone (without counting the numbers naturally lost to predation or auto strikes).

    In New Mexico, oryx were brought in from Africa and turned loose behind the White Sands Missile Range. The population has blossomed and the state receives $1500+ per license from hunters in addition to all the revenue the state make from travel and sundry spending.

    In short, the best way to guarantee the continued existence of a species in America is to make it a regulated, huntable animal and spend the resources generated by it from the hunters to ensure optimal conditions and numbers for population stabilization.

    Or, in the case of the "poodle pig" above, create an elite, overpriced market for its slightly different products. Poodle pigs as pets, as pillows and as pepperoni! Give it value and distinction and it will last forever. Let it seem common and it will die off like last year’s sitcom.

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  15. 15. Amandine 9:15 pm 07/31/2009

    " trying to save endangered creatures by eating them"

    That is not a ludicrous idea. If they have a commercial interest and people would pay to eat them, they will be saved: just like the American Buffalo in the Plains today. They were almost hunted to extinction while the transcontinental railroad was being built, but someone saved 2 buffaloes and the one’s living today came from that pair.

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