After more than three years in the making, the National Pork Board launched the Swine Welfare Assurance Program (SWAP) to scientifically and objectively measure on-farm animal care.
Pork producers know they are doing the right thing when it comes to treatment of animals. With the unveiling of SWAP on Aug. 6, they have the chance to prove it.
“SWAP is a voluntary program that provides benchmarking for producers — tools that will evaluate and track the welfare record of an operation,” explains Paul Sundberg, DVM, assistant vice president, Veterinary Issues at the Pork Board.
“SWAP is an education and assessment program that promotes the pork industry's tradition of responsible animal care,” adds Anna Johnson, director of Animal Welfare at the Pork Board. “The written documentation is probably the part of SWAP that most producers will have to work on.”
For the first time, producers will have documentation “that will allow them to technically assess welfare over a given period of time,” says producer John Kellogg, long-time animal welfare committee member and media day host.
Producers will now be able to identify management, nutrition or health deficiencies before they become a welfare concern, and before they turn into production and economic problems down the line, states the Yorkville, IL, producer.
Overall, the program provides a way for producers to maintain self-regulation and demonstrate that what they are doing is right for the animals, notes Sundberg.
Animal Welfare Evolution
Animal agriculture has faced growing challenges from various animal welfare interest groups since the mid-1990s, recalls John-son.
Fast-food chains began developing their own animal welfare guidelines. In 2001, the National Council of Chain Restaurants and the Food Marketing Institute formed an alliance to uniformly address animal welfare concerns. Later this year, the two groups are expected to issue a joint release after their review of the pork producers' animal welfare guidelines assessed by SWAP, says Johnson.
In 2000, the Pork Board's animal welfare committee recognized the need to develop an on-farm animal welfare program to avoid having to meet multiple guidelines. The committee focused on the needs of gestating sows due to concerns over stall housing, says Johnson.
From meetings with U.S. and international experts, a swine welfare indexing system was formed in 2001. The index is comprised of 43 measures and covers records, animals and facilities.
The producer animal welfare committee soon realized that focusing on sow housing was too narrow, and with the help of expert animal scientists and veterinarians, developed SWAP.
The program splits the evaluation of production into two phases. Gilts, sows, boars and baby pigs make up the first phase, and nursery through finishing make up the second phase, observes Johnson.
For comparison, SWAP is similar to the industry's long-running Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) program in that it provides a tool to help producers maintain or expand their markets, says Sundberg.
But SWAP is also vastly different. PQA certifies that a person has been educated in the requirements for responsible animal drug use. With SWAP, producers go through an educational and assessment process. Producers only receive a SWAP certification of their site after an assessment has been completed, explains Sundberg.
And as with PQA, SWAP is an ongoing educational program for producers, stresses Johnson. SWAP is comprised of nine care and well-being principles (CWP's) explained in the 50-plus-page producer handbook. Each section, outlined below, spells out in detail the principles needed to provide proper animal welfare and features daily log sheets, calculation sheets to track results and tables for assessing animal care.
- Herd health and nutrition
Records document six areas: a valid veterinary-client-patient relationship, the herd health program, medication and treatment records, mortality, pigs euthanized and the nutritional program.
- Caretaker training
“The most important factor in animal welfare is the husbandry skills of the people caring for those animals on a day-to-day basis. That means the knowledge and training of the people working with the animals and the attitude of the caretaker is the foundation upon which animal welfare is built,” observes Johnson. Covered here are the operation's training programs for euthanasia, handling and husbandry and career development efforts by the producer and staff.
“At a minimum of training, all employees should work to complete PQA Level III within six months if working on a daily basis in a hog operation,” she asserts.
- Animal observation
Review includes status of skills in daily observation, animal evaluation, swine behavior and pig social contact. Animal evaluation will include cuts, scratches and lameness, featuring the industry's first prevalence guidelines for these conditions.
- Body condition score
Pigs that are very thin (body condition score of one) will not be as productive as a pig in better condition. The score helps evaluate the adequacy of the nutrition program and animal health.
This section evaluates the euthanasia action plan for timeliness, methods and use of proper equipment.
Johnson declares: “Unless there are special circumstances for animals under veterinary care, no more than two days of intensive care with no improvement or prospects for improvement should be needed before a decision about euthanasia is made.” She adds it is very important to have people highly trained in this field on hand day or night, “to euthanize animals in a timely and humane way.”
- Handling and movement
This section covers an evaluation of equipment, facilities and proper handling. An orange caution block in the booklet strongly advises that the use of electric prods should be avoided or minimized.
Seven categories are checked: ventilation, heating and cooling, physical space allocations for the animals, pen maintenance, feeder space, access to water and availability of hospital pens.
According to Johnson, the definition of a hospital pen includes more than an individual pen. It can also be part of a pen that is closed off or a single stall. The important factor is meeting the special needs of the compromised animal. Consider if there are special needs for heating and cooling, mats or bedding and ready access to feed and water, she advises.
Ammonia testers are being used as an indication of air quality problems, points out Johnson.
Producers need to closely follow animal space recommendations listed in the Swine Care Handbook. Adequate pig space means there is enough floor space for each pig to completely lie down on its side without having to lie on another pig. Sows in stalls or in groups must be able to:
Lie down without their heads resting on a raised feeder;
Lie down without the rear quarters having to be in contact with the back of the stall, and
Easily lie down fully and stand back up.
Emergency support system. Alarms, checklists and intervention procedures should be in place. A written action plan could be a one-page document listing all key contact names and numbers in the event of an emergency. Post this list at various sites around the farm, says Johnson.
Continuing assessment and education. This section reinforces SWAP in that continuous training and periodic educational updates will be needed to keep abreast of changes in welfare requirements. Regular, periodic assessment will enable producers to track changes and evaluate production.
Program Cost, Access
The program handbook and all related pork checkoff-funded materials are available free to interested pork producers, says Johnson. Producers can obtain these online at www.porkboard.org or call (800) 456-PORK.
The cost of on-farm assessments is between the producer and the educator who conducts them, she says. Producers should be able to have herd health checks, PQA recertification and SWAP assessments done during the same farm visit.
If interested in enrolling in SWAP, contact your American Association of Swine Veterinarians member (515) 465-5255, local Extension office or the National Pork Board for details.
Missouri Farm Commits to SWAP
Premium Standard Farms (PSF) has become the first large, integrated farming operation to publicly declare its commitment to the industry's new Swine Welfare Assurance Program (SWAP).
PSF has announced all company-owned farms will be SWAP-assessed.
“Assuring animal welfare is critical to socially responsible livestock production,” states Bo Manly, PSF president. “The SWAP program provides the tools to assess and verify our welfare practices. I'm confident our efforts will provide our customers and consumers the reassurance they need that pork from PSF comes from farms where animal welfare is assured by this rigorous assessment program.”
Welfare Projects Assigned
The National Pork Board has allocated pork checkoff funds for seven animal welfare projects in 2003, as follows:
Impact of early weaning and photoperiod manipulation on pig welfare by Janeen Salak-Johnson, University of Illinois;
Strategies to optimize sow longevity by Sandra Rodriguez-Zas, University of Illinois;
Evaluation of the effect of group size and structure on welfare of gestating sows in pens with electronic feeders by John Deen, DVM, University of Minnesota;
Lameness in pigs: investigating a welfare issue in commercial herds in the Midwest by Michael Hill, Purdue University Foundation;
Influence of gestation housing on sow welfare and productivity by Roy Kirkwood, DVM, Michigan State University;
The epidemiology of mortality and injuries of weaned pigs during transportation by Robert Morrison, DVM, University of Minnesota, and
The effects of space allowance and season on the welfare of early weaned pigs under commercial and experimental transport conditions by Nora Lewis, DVM, University of Manitoba.
Veterinarians Support SWAP
The American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) supports the new Swine Welfare Assurance Program (SWAP) and plans to play a key role in its implementation.
Veterinarians who have been trained as certified SWAP educators will work closely with pork producers, according to the AASV. Together they will conduct a walk-through assessment of pigs and their environment and measure and track indicators of swine welfare in all phases of production.
“SWAP continues the legacy of balanced, science-based programs that the AASV encourages and endorses,” says AASV President Rick Sibbel, DVM. “Swine welfare begins and ends with good stockmanship. SWAP provides producers with a user-friendly method of implementing and maintaining production practices that address swine welfare, regardless of the type or size of the production facility.”
To assist producers with implementing SWAP, the AASV plans to underwrite much of the cost to its members for training as a SWAP educator “as this is our highest priority for the next six months,” he emphasizes.
This very proactive program may be the cost of admission to participate in the pork industry, adds Sibbel.