ACES PhD student Martin Overholt works with Vion Foods in the Netherlands
Photo of Martin Overholt with a bike.
December 4, 2018

The following are reflections from Martin Overholt, a PhD student in Food Science and Human Nutrition, on his research project,  which was partially funded by an ACES International Graduate Grant: “Determination of sources of variability in pork quality in the Dutch swine production system." Martin's advisor is Dr. Anna Dilger. 

"I spent 16 days in the Netherlands working with Vion Food Group at their headquarters in Boxtel. I had intended to collect data to characterize the variability in pork carcass attributes and compare that with data previously collected in the U.S. However, the groups of pigs we had planned on using as our test population did not grow at the rate expected, and therefore the farmers and the abattoir pushed back the slaughter date 2 weeks, outside of the window of the time I was going to be there.

Despite this pretty major setback, all was not lost. I was still able to work with the R&D team at Vion to assess the effects of a dietary probiotic supplement on carcass characteristics and meat quality. I also toured and assisted with several of their projects at three of their packing plants in the Netherlands, including one that specialized in organic pork, and I assisted with a pilot study for a potential ingredient to be used in the formulation of marinated pork chops.

In addition to working with Vion, I was able to reach out to an alumni of the U of I Dept of Animal Sciences who works as a research scientist for Trouw Nutrition. This connection facilitated a tour of Trouw's research farm and analytical laboratories. 

Although the research plans did not work out as I had hoped, I was still able to gain great insight into the comparative differences between the US and Dutch agricultural systems, especially in regard to the pork industry and how the Dutch pork industry interacts with EU regulatory bodies and the consumers across Europe and the world. And honestly, the most important outcome of this experience was the ability to network with researchers in Europe. The exposure and insight I gained during my trip to the Netherlands has already paid dividends, as I've been able to leverage those experiences and connections as I've started my career in the U.S. pork industry."