A key issue is that animal welfare may be used as a trade barrier.
The National Pork Board is confident that its voluntary educational animal welfare programs have struck a chord with pork producers, improving both animal husbandry and the well-being of the animal.
“Pork production is such a diversified industry. There are many, many ways to raise a pig that are good for the pig and good for the consumer,” says Sherrie Niekamp, director of Swine Welfare for the Pork Board.
But when it comes to animal welfare guidelines, what's most important is that those guidelines are based on sound science, she says.
In recent years, the Paris-based Office of International Epizootics (OIE), which historically has dealt with worldwide animal health issues, has added animal welfare to its scope of responsibility, Niekamp points out.
“There is an underlying assumption that a lack of animal welfare legislation equals a lack of animal welfare and that national legislation is the only way to implement OIE standards,” she explains.
NPPC's Jen Greiner, DVM, director of science and technology, adds those developments by OIE have elevated pork industry concerns.
To represent U.S. pork industry interests in this changing environment, NPPC and Pork Board leaders attended the OIE's 2nd Global Conference on Animal Welfare held last fall in Cairo, Egypt.
Leadership in the OIE, made up of 172 member countries, is working to link animal welfare to food safety, Greiner says. Officials are also looking to incorporate animal welfare into trade agreements wherever possible.
To demonstrate that voluntary, educational programs are advancing animal welfare programs in the U.S. pork industry, the Pork Board presented a poster at the OIE conference prepared by Niekamp; Paul DuBois, DVM, Cargill Pork; and Paul Sundberg, DVM, and Erik Risa, both with the Pork Board. Greiner represented NPPC.
The poster compares animal welfare programs developed by the Pork Board with two similar guidelines issued by the OIE, on livestock transport and humane euthanasia, the current focus of the OIE. In all, the OIE has developed five guidelines for animal welfare with three others covering transport of animals by sea, transport of animals by air and slaughter of animals for human consumption.
“How the countries have implemented the guidelines can vary vastly from country to country. Some OIE countries are very interested in legislation, and so to them, creating these guidelines means creating legislation,” Niekamp says.
“Here in the United States, we are not so much geared toward legislation; our priorities are education and verification,” she adds. There are also rules promulgated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The first part of the Pork Board's poster compares OIE guidelines for transportation by land vs. USDA regulations for animal handling at USDA-inspected slaughter plants and length of transport, and the U.S. Pork Checkoff's Transport Quality Assurance (TQA) program.
“A lot of the guidelines that the OIE has created to date are pretty vague; they basically focus on competency and training, and there are not a lot of prescriptive actions for transport yet,” Niekamp says.
That compares to USDA regulations for humane handling of swine in packing plants and USDA rules enforcing 28 hours as the maximum length of transport before animals must have rest, food and water.
The TQA program sets guidelines for handling, transporting and unloading swine. TQA handlers must pass a class taught by a certified handler.
Because U.S. hog transportation is usually regional or time limited, Pork Checkoff guidelines don't address documentation for the period of rest and access to feed and water prior to transport or a journey log as described in the OIE guidelines.
The TQA program doesn't recommend providing feed to finishing hogs prior to transport, the poster suggests. Feed withdrawal prior to transport reduces the risk of carcass contamination with bacteria.
“The United States is far ahead of the OIE because we have conducted the research to implement transportation guidelines,” Niekamp says.
The second poster section compares the euthanasia of pigs for disease control. U.S. and OIE recommendations are very similar in use of humane methods for euthanasia. Both groups address euthanasia in the case of a large-scale disease outbreak.
“While there are many similarities and sometimes some differences between the transport of land and killing for disease control guidelines followed by the U.S. pork industry and those recommended by the OIE, it is important that the guidelines continue to be based on sound science,” the poster authors conclude.