Fact sheet offers quick rundown of new industry program.

Participation in the National Pork Board's Pork Quality Assurance-Plus (PQA-Plus) program, introduced last June at World Pork Expo, has been slowed by some confusion as producers try to figure out how to move beyond the old Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) program and Swine Welfare Assurance Program (SWAP).

For its part, PQA was around for about 20 years. It was a simple sell. Producers voluntarily became certified, and their swine veterinarians signed a card during a herd visit confirming that the producer knew about the correct use of medications.

However, there really has been little validation that the producer was doing the right thing in PQA, says Colin Johnson, Iowa Pork Industry Center (IPIC) Extension specialist and PQA advisor, based in Ames, IA.

SWAP followed in an attempt to place more emphasis on animal care and handling.

“What PQA-Plus has done is combine PQA with SWAP, lumping those older programs together and streamlining them into PQA-Plus,” he adds.

Similar to PQA, PQA-Plus is a voluntary program with a three-year producer certification.

“Current PQA certification is valid until its expiration, when producers should go through the PQA-Plus certification process,” Johnson clarifies.

There has been some confusion as to how producers should make the transition from those older programs to PQA-Plus. To help Iowa producers, the Iowa Pork Producers Association and IPIC banded together to build a question-and-answer fact sheet. It can be accessed on the IPIC Web site at: www.ipic.iastate.edu/information/PQAPlus.factsheet.pdf.

Questions and answers follow:

What does the PQA-Plus program include?

There are three separate components:

  • PQA-Plus certification for the producer;

  • PQA-Plus site status for farm sites; and

  • Potential audit of the farm site (random).

How do I get certified in PQA-Plus?

Certification requires attendance at a training session conducted by a PQA-Plus advisor. The advisor records your information with the National Pork Board, and a PQA-Plus certification card will be issued to you. Producers can be certified without obtaining site status.

Who are the PQA-Plus advisors and how do I find one?

Advisors can be veterinarians, Extension specialists and educators who have two years of documented production experience and have successfully completed training to be a PQA-Plus trainer. To locate an advisor, contact the Pork Checkoff Service Center at (800) 456-7675 or visit the PQA-Plus Web site at www.pork.org.

If my PQA Level III does not expire until 2009, do I need to recertify before then?

Producers do not need to join PQA-Plus until their PQA certification expires.

What if I am 19 years old and still exhibit in swine shows?

If you are 19 or older, you need to be certified through the new PQA-Plus program. Johnson explains that youth exhibitors aged 8-18 need to participate in the “Youth PQA-Plus” program.

Is there a cost to become PQA-Plus certified or to achieve site status?

A fee schedule will be determined by the certified PQA-Plus advisor to reflect costs of services, including program administration activities. Training for certification takes about two hours and many advisors will likely charge $25/participant in a group setting. Individual certifications may range from $25 to 50. Site assessments will vary greatly in cost depending on the size of the site, housing arrangements and the advisor's prior interaction with the farm, Johnson says. The minimum charge will be $100/site.

What is the difference between certification and site status?

Certification refers to the individual, while site status refers to a specific production site. An individual can be certified without having any connection to a specific production site.

How do I obtain a site status for my farm?

For site status, the production site must first be identified with a National Animal Identification System premises identification number that can be obtained from the state veterinarian or animal health official. A PQA-Plus-certified individual must be associated with the site, and an assessment of animal care must take place. A PQA-Plus advisor, or an individual with direct knowledge of the farm who has a PQA-Plus Site Self-Assessment Endorsement, is eligible to conduct the site assessment.

What is PQA-Plus Self-Assessment?

A PQA-Plus Self-Assessment En-dorsement allows individuals to be trained in the assessment process, pass a test and then conduct a PQA-Plus Site Self-Assessment of the operation with which they are directly associated. A PQA-Plus advisor will review assessment results and report completion of the site assessment to the Pork Board.

How can I receive a PQA-Plus Self-Assessment Endorsement?

For a Self-Assessment Endorsement, producers must hold current PQA-Plus certification, attend a training session with a PQA-Plus advisor, and pass a test covering the 10 Good Production Practices and the on-farm assessment process.

IPIC's Johnson sees particular value in the site assessment. “It opens the door to bring some new tools into the operation, and it provides tremendous value in having another set of eyes in the operation looking at production and public health-related issues.”

Once a farm site assessment has been completed, the site is placed into a pool/database maintained by the Pork Board, explains Johnson. “After so many site assessments have been done, a separate third party contracted with by the Pork Board will randomly select a farm to audit, to validate to the customer that this program is working,” he notes.

In addition, the audit will not be a pass-fail for the site. It is designed to provide some assurance that the program is set up properly, and if lapses are discovered, then they can be corrected. But ultimately, the goal of the audit is to show that PQA-Plus is being implemented properly in the industry, acknowledges Johnson.

PQA-Plus Program Update

The Pork Quality-Plus (PQA-Plus) trainers are providing uniform instruction of advisors in all states to ensure that all producers are receiving the same message, assures Paul Sundberg, DVM, vice president of Science and Technology for the National Pork Board.

That way, when restaurants and retailers come calling, the industry can respond that producers have been uniformly educated about proper production practices, their farm sites have been assessed and program implementation in the industry has been verified.

“We've got to have assessments done in a uniform manner, because we fully expect restaurants and retailers to ask for assurances about industry implementation in the future,” Sundberg adds. Assessments are producer-friendly, commonly in cooperation with the regular swine veterinarian.

In order to demonstrate this implementation, premises identification is necessary (see related story, pages 22-24), according to Sundberg. About 66% of pork producers have enrolled their farms in USDA's National Animal Identification System (NAIS) program.

Producers can wait to adopt PQA-Plus until after their current PQA enrollment expires. A better understanding of the value of participation and market demand could be another factor that might encourage early enrollment, he says.

Hatfield Quality Meats (Hatfield, PA) has taken that first step in market demand. “They have said that all of their pork suppliers need to be PQA-Plus certified or educated. Once that is done, then those producers have 90 days to get a site assessment,” Sundberg explains. He says Hatfield has agreed to allow producers to complete the rollover of their current PQA program before requiring certification in the new PQA-Plus program.

However, he stresses there are other good reasons beyond market demand for producers to consider completing certification in PQA-Plus. “There is new information in PQA-Plus, better information about standard operating procedures, such as needle use, and more information about proper antibiotic use,” Sundberg says.

Information has also been updated on facilities, air quality and water quality management.

Sundberg says swine veterinarians report one notable advantage of using PQA-Plus is in helping producers with sows using body condition scores. “For example, swine veterinarians used to be just able to say those sows looked too thin, and now they can provide the guidelines for what should be happening and talk about how to get there, instead of just saying, ‘here is what they should look like,’” he observes.

The PQA-Plus program offers knowledge to improve production practices at a time when producers are facing increased feed and other production costs and lower returns.

In the end, PQA-Plus should enable producers to spend a buck and get back more than they invested, while improving their operation and securing market access, Sundberg states.