New quality assurance/animal well-being certification program rolled out for producers of all sizes.

Members of the National Pork Board and this year's class of the Pork Leadership Academy were the first pork producers trained on the newly introduced Pork Quality Assurance Plus (PQA Plus) program.

The June 6 training officially launched PQA Plus, a program that incorporates an animal well-being component into the popular Pork Quality Assurance (PQA Level III) program, introduced in 1989.

By marrying the Pork Checkoff's PQA III with Swine Welfare Assurance Program (SWAP), the industry now has what National Pork Board President Wayne Peugh describes as “a continuous improvement system focused on producer education, certification and premises assessment.”

Speaking at a World Pork Expo press conference, Peugh, an Edelstein, IL, pork producer adds, “The pork industry is working on programs that will demonstrate to our customers our accountability, trust and social responsibility in pork production. The Pork Checkoff is working to provide producers with tools and the ability to do that, and PQA Plus will serve as a foundation to help meet that challenge.

“I really believe that this program is an answer — not only to our producers' needs — but also to our consumers' needs,” he adds.

New PQA Plus Handbook

A new PQA Plus producer certification handbook describes the two basic elements of the program — food safety and animal well-being.

Food safety initiatives target production practices that minimize physical, chemical and biological hazards to keep the product safe and maintain consumer confidence.

Chemical hazards could include herbicides, insecticides and violative antibiotic residues.

Biological hazards are those that could cause foodborne illness, such as bacteria, virus, mold or parasites.

Physical hazards include any foreign object that could cause injury to a person consuming a product.

Clearly, consumers expect animals to be treated with care throughout their lives and the harvesting process.

The “plus” portion of the new program addresses these acceptable animal well-being practices. The producer's role in animal well-being is assuring that pigs are provided with appropriate conditions in which they are able to adapt to their environment while maintaining good health and physical condition.

The PQA Plus certification handbook offers 10 good production practices:

  1. Establish and implement an efficient and effective herd health management plan. Important components would include regular evaluation of the herd's health by a veterinarian, effective internal and external biosecurity programs, rodent and pest control, and cleaning and disinfecting procedures.

  2. Use an appropriate veterinary-client-patient relationship as the basis for medication decision-making. The herd's veterinarian should be actively involved in medical judgments regarding the health of the animals and the need for treatment, while the owner/caretaker agrees to follow the veterinarian's instructions.

  3. Use antibiotics responsibly. Used for the health and welfare of animals, pork producers recognize the importance of using these tools responsibly to minimize the development of antibiotic resistance, to prevent harmful residues, and to preserve their effectiveness in the production of wholesome pork products.

  4. Identify and track all treated animals. Identification is the first critical step to a site-specific recordkeeping system capable of identifying treated animals and following appropriate withdrawal times.

  5. Maintain medication and treatment records. The primary purpose for maintaining records of all medications administered is to ensure proper withdrawal times can be met.

  6. Properly store, label and account for all drug products and medicated feeds. Medications and vaccines are perishable and, therefore, must be protected from environmental extremes and from contamination.

  7. Educate all animal caretakers on proper administration techniques, needle-use procedures, observance of withdrawal times and methods to avoid marketing adulterated products for human food. Everyone involved in medicating pigs must be trained to properly administer the products. All must be capable of reading and understanding label directions and withdrawal periods, and be responsible for identifying all treated animals.

  8. Follow appropriate on-farm feed and commercial feed processor procedures. Delivering high-quality feed includes meeting nutrient requirements of all animals, delivering feed-based medications at appropriate levels and avoiding feed contamination. Accurate labeling and recordkeeping are critical in feed processing and delivery.

  9. Develop, implement and document an animal caretaker training program. Effective training of all workers in a swine production unit protects worker safety and ensures all tasks are performed properly and the animals are cared for humanely.

  10. Provide proper swine care to improve swine well-being. The PQA Plus program provides a dozen care and well-being principles which include:

    • Recordkeeping — Veterinary-client-patient relationship; medication and treatment records; documented caretaker training program (euthanasia, handling, husbandry);

    • Emergency Support — Written action plan for emergencies; emergency detection system; emergency backup system.

    • PQA Plus Site Assessment — As deemed necessary by the producer and the advisor, but at least once every three years.

    • Daily observation — Identification of sick pigs; provision for treatment pen(s).

    • Animal evaluation — Physical examination of pigs and production performance evaluation.

    • Body condition score (BCS) — Commonly used to evaluate sow condition, but also helpful in evaluating condition of boars, replacement gilts and pigs in other stages of production.

    • Body space — Physical space and stocking density guidelines for breeding animals and pigs of various sizes should be discussed with the PQA Plus advisor to ensure the animals' needs are met.

    • Euthanasia — A written euthanasia plan is recommended (timeliness and functional equipment required).

    • Facilities — Focuses on pen maintenance, feeder space, water availability and floor condition.

    • Handling and movement — Anyone responsible for handling or moving pigs should receive proper training, including the use of equipment, such as sorting boards, etc.

    • Ventilation — Temperature and air quality control affect the well-being of pigs, regardless of housing type.

    • Willful acts of abuse — Intentional acts of neglect or abuse must be understood, recognized and corrective action taken.

Certification Process

The PQA Plus program has undergone nearly 12 months of pilot farm testing. “The purpose was to make sure that producers of all sizes and all production styles are able to take advantage of the new program,” notes Peugh.

The new program has two levels of recognition, explains Erik Risa, Pork Checkoff's manager of certification programs.

“The first is a certification for individuals, similar to the process used in PQA Level III, and is valid for three years. The second portion is recognizing sites as defined by their premises identification number. The site status requires an on-farm assessment, and one individual on the site must hold PQA Plus certification. This level of certification is also valid for three years,” he explains.

“PQA Plus provides food safety and animal handling assurances to our customers, including restaurants, food retailers and consumers. The program assures consumers that they are purchasing the highest quality, safest product possible, while caring for the animals' well-being,” Peugh states.

“PQA Plus helps earn customers' trust and improves the image of the industry. And, perhaps most importantly, PQA Plus is the right thing to do,” Risa adds.

When certifying in the program, producers must attend a session conducted by a trained PQA Plus advisor.

To contact an advisor or to attend the session nearest you, go to www.pork.org for details or call 800-456-7675.