Pork producers are not allowed to visit the Fairmont Artificial Breeders (FAB) facility in rural Martin County, MN, because of strict biosecurity rules. But, without seeing inside the 300-head facility, they can be assured that the boar stud meets international quality management standards.

In November 1999, FAB received the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9002 certification. FAB is a PIC affiliate gene transfer center. The facility is owned by a group of 70 pork producers and is managed by Preferred Capital Management. Fairmont Veterinary Clinic provides veterinary services for the facility.

The certification means that every process that affects the quality of FAB's product has been documented, tested and proven, according to Sasha Gibson, FAB's consultant and reproductive physiologist.

FAB's board of directors hired Gibson in September 1998. She and the FAB staff then began the process of developing and documenting a unique quality system. What that means is, from animal care to boar collection to semen processing and delivery, FAB employees use the best possible procedures to insure quality. They ship 30,000 doses of semen a month.

On May 1, 1999, the quality system was implemented. Four months later, an independent auditor examined the system and the paperwork. After another review, FAB was deemed fit to receive the ISO certification.

"What they are concerned about is that we prove to them, beyond a reasonable doubt, that we do what we say we are doing," Gibson says. "In our case, we sell the producer quality semen."

What Is ISO? The International Organization for Standardization is a worldwide federation based in Geneva, Switzerland. Some 130 countries are members of ISO. The name is derived from the Greek "isos" which means "equal."

The federation, through work by industry experts, scientists and businesspeople, sets worldwide standards that can apply to every type of business and industry.

Well-known ISO standards include ISBN numbers for books, the graphical symbols used on automobile dashboard controls, the standardization of bolt and screw sizes, paper sizes, film speeds and the thickness of credit, telephone and banking cards.

Because of ISO standards, credit cards work anywhere in the world, paper is always the same size and film speeds are universal.

Since 1947, ISO has issued 12,000 international standards. ISO 9000 is a group of standards that deal with quality management processes. The ISO 9002 standard is a quality assurance model that applies to organizations which produce, install and service products.

Standardization by industry is a key to world trade. For example, the ISO shipping container standard allows companies to export by establishing common-sized shipments.

New To The Industry Life sciences, including agriculture, is a relatively new area for ISO standards.

Gary Althouse, DVM, reproductive specialist at the University of Illinois, expects the pork industry to increase its use of quality management systems and certification.

"As our industry matures and incorporates new technologies, producers are coming to recognize the importance of obtaining a consistent, quality product for their operations," he says. "I can only assume that our industry will come to appreciate even more the merits of the ISO 9000 system."

Doug Bettin, Truman, MN, is a shareholder in the boar stud. He explains that ISO simply means the semen delivered to his 350-sow farm is handled properly.

"Knowing that it was handled correctly all the way from the collection to when it arrived in my cooler on the farm, that's one of the reasons I stick with FAB," he says.

Employees at the facility made only small changes in their day-to-day procedures, according to Doug Faber, FAB manager. Paperwork was standardized for incoming and outgoing orders and laboratory processing. Faber relates that the "paper trail" allows for complete confidence in the process. It also shows where mistakes were made and how he or his staff corrected the problem.

"In a lot of aspects, the ISO makes managing easier," Faber says. "You have a set of rules to back you up."

Faber estimates that his staff worked an extra 15 to 25 hours a week during the 14-month process. Gibson figures the cost for outside consultants at $10,000.

Jeff Altfillisch, PIC gene transfer manager, notes that FAB is leading the effort to certify nine PIC affiliate boar studs around the U.S. ISO certification is on the agenda for each of the affiliate facilities. Three studs are implementing the process. PIC's European units are already ISO certified.

"We think standardization is very important throughout the system. ISO 9002 is another function of that," Altfillisch says. "Our goal is to get all the affiliates certified."

FAB's approach to business goes beyond simply delivering doses of semen to pork producers, explains Larry Becker. Becker and his family have a 1,200-sow, farrow-to-finish operation near Northrup, MN. He also serves on the FAB board of directors.

"It's not only semen, it is service and training," he explains. "If you've got a problem, a low farrowing rate or a low conception rate, they'll come out and help."

In addition to on-farm training for new employees, Gibson also teaches classes on topics such as physiology and anatomy and breeding techniques. The quarterly classes are offered to new employees or as refresher courses to established employees and producers.

The classes and on-farm training help producers use FAB's product successfully and consistently. Gibson says, "The stud had a good quality product. What it needed was consistency. Some farms did exceptionally well and some farms using the same semen did not."

Kent Kislingbury, DVM, Fairmont Veterinary Clinic, says ISO 9002 has had a positive impact on FAB staff and customers.

"I can say without a moment's hesitation that there isn't one person that is associated with that stud, whether it be a veterinarian, employee or producer, who hasn't benefited from the ISO 9002 procedure. It has made us better."

Fairmont Artificial Breeders (FAB) got its start in 1993, when pork producers and veterinarians began recognizing the advantages of artificial insemination (AI).

Because AI was such a new concept, FAB did not build a boar stud facility right away, explains Clark Huinker, DVM, Fairmont (MN) Veterinary Clinic.

Instead, FAB started as an on-farm demonstration project. Producers collected their own boars and brought the semen to the clinic to be processed. The doses were then shipped back to the farms.

The project allowed producers to learn about AI and tested the concept of building a 200-head boar stud.

"We used that process as a stepping stone into AI," says Huinker. "The response was very positive. So then plans were started to build the stud."

Construction of the original unit was completed in the summer of 1995. A year later, the facility was expanded to house 300 animals.

In 1999, a 36-head isolation unit was added which allowed FAB to isolate incoming boars for 90 days instead of the customary 60-day period.

In addition to the isolation, biosecurity at the stud is tight. Visitors must be 96-hours pig-free to enter the facility.

The isolation and biosecurity rules provide an extra safeguard for both FAB and its customers, Huinker says.

FAB's customer base is growing, in some part thanks to the ISO certification. In addition to semen shipped regularly to other states, FAB's Sasha Gibson has received customer inquiries from Mexico.

The bulk of the semen sales are within a 250-mile radius of Fairmont. In that area, FAB's courier service delivers the semen within 5 to 6 hours of collection. All FAB customers pay the same semen prices, $6.50/dose.