Cargill Pork announced today that it has achieved eight critical animal welfare assurance goals pertaining to the production, handling, transporting and harvesting of hogs.

On Oct. 1, 2008, Cargill became the first in the industry to institute a policy whereby it will only purchase hogs from farms that have been certified in the National Pork Board’s Pork Quality Assurance Plus (PQA+) program. The program sets strict production guidelines for hog production including animal welfare standards.

By December 2008, Cargill Pork’s hog production business completed PQA+ certification site assessments for all of the 450 farms where it has production contracts.

Cargill also committed more than two years ago to widely adopt group housing for gestating sows.

“We decided to take a leadership role in sow housing because we think it’s the right thing to do to support our customers and our brand,” says Cargill Pork President Dirk Jones.

The Minneapolis-based company reports it has achieved its goal of having 50% of contract farms using group sow housing rather than individual gestation stalls for pregnant sows.

“Achieving this objective distinguishes us as a leader among pork companies,” says Jeff Worstell, Cargill Pork vice president for live production and procurement. “As we contract with new grower operations, they too, will need to meet Cargill’s sow housing standards.”

In addition, Cargill has instituted the NPB’s Transportation Quality Assurance (TQA) policy that only truck drivers who are certified in humane handling of livestock are permitted to deliver animals to the company’s plants. The TQA program teaches drivers and livestock handlers on the proper procedures to ensure animal well-being and pork quality.

“It’s straightforward – if a driver isn’t TQA-certified, he’s stopped at our gates,” says Jones. “Federal regulations cover animal handling in our processing plants, but there is no strict oversight of transportation prior to arriving at our plants. We decided to step up and take a leadership role to help ensure that all parts of the supply chain do what is needed.”

Cargill has also required that 20 of its plant animal handling personnel be trained and certified by the Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization (PAACO), the industry group that trains meat plant auditors.

Besides the PAACO training, all Cargill plant employees who handle livestock receive specialized training in humane animal handling. Plant employees each receive about 82 hours of animal welfare training per year. Management staff are required to be TQA certified and supervisors who work with animals in pens are certified instructors in TQA.

“We believe we have created the most comprehensive humane animal handling training and certification program in the industry to ensure that we are being conscientious about the animals under our care and protection,” Jones says.

For more than two years, Cargill has used video monitoring in its plants to help animal welfare management teach and monitor animal handling performance.

Cargill also established a Trucker Recognition Program in March 2008 to honor livestock haulers for individual performance in the proper handling of hogs. This program, in part, has led to a major reduction in the delivery of non-ambulatory hogs to company plants. Cargill provides incentives to truckers for superior performance in hauling healthy livestock to its plants.

An animal rescue program has been added to respond to transportation emergencies. Trailers and teams are ready to respond to truck accidents involving swine transportation. The company is also spearheading a national effort with the Pork Board to make animal rescue a national program.