Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) and Swine Welfare Assurance Program (SWAP) are being rolled into one program that will include an assessment, certification of farm sites and random audits.

Increasing consumer interest in animal welfare prompted a broad-based coalition of industry groups to recommend a revised certification program for pork producers. The results were unveiled at World Pork Expo last month in Des Moines.

The Pork Industry Animal Care Coalition developed a food industry solution to provide consumers assurance that animals are cared for throughout the growing process, says Hugh Dorminy, former president of the National Pork Board, who championed the effort.

Answering the Challenge

“In January 2005, the Pork Board's board of directors passed a resolution challenging CEO Steve Murphy to develop a long-term sustainable solution to the animal welfare issue,” explains Dorminy.

Out of that challenge came the birth of the coalition, comprised of producers, packers, retailers and foodservice personnel. They formulated a five-year schedule for developing and rolling out a system that would be credible, workable and affordable for all segments of the pork chain, he comments.

Danita Rodibaugh, National Pork Board president, adds: “The initial discovery meeting made two things clear. First, demand for pork could suffer if consumer concerns on animal well-being were not addressed in a credible manner. Second, producer support would only be achieved if the solutions were practical and affordable.

“The coalition also agreed that no solution would ever satisfy animal agriculture opponents,” notes Rodibaugh. “The solution is aimed at answering the concerns of our consumers, not an activist agenda.”

Process of Development

Pork Quality Assurance Plus (PQA Plus), the Checkoff's revision of the current PQA program and the response to the coalition's recommendation, will take two years to develop. The formal program launch is scheduled during World Pork Expo, June 7-9, 2007 in Des Moines, IA. In the ensuing three years, all pork producers will have the opportunity to become certified in the voluntary program, explains Paul Sundberg, DVM, vice president of Science and Technology for the Pork Board.

Both PQA and SWAP education programs are being retooled, and animal care will become part of a broader, more visible focus within the new PQA Plus program, he states.

Producers interested in testing the program and sharing their results are invited to call the Pork Checkoff Service Center at (800) 456-7675.

The way the process will work, producers will be educated in the new program and an assessment of their production facilities will be performed. Once the assessment is completed, a site becomes PQA Plus-certified, and their names will go into a pool of possible sites to be audited. A stratified random sample will be used within a statistical sampling of farms that will be inspected and audited for animal care production practices, adds Sundberg. Unlike a typical random sampling scheme, the stratified procedure is weighted to ensure that a balanced cross-section of producers is sampled.

Those first audits will be paid for by Pork Checkoff funds, if the Agriculture Department agrees. If a producer has issues of noncompliance in the audit, their veterinarian or Extension educator will help correct problems. Producers pay for a corrective audit to be performed. If the producer can't or won't fix the lapse, the PQA Plus status for the site will be revoked.

Most packers currently require that hogs purchased be PQA Level III-certified to meet the needs of retail and foodservice suppliers. According to the Pork Board, over 100,000 producers are participating in the current PQA program, comprising nearly 70,000 hog farms.

Sundberg emphasizes that a producer's farm site will not be audited until after their assessment is completed. And if their PQA eligibility is about to expire, they should renew their three-year membership in the program.

PQA Plus will be an evolving program, says Dorminy. “The facility assessment will serve as an industry benchmark for all segments, and we will aggregate that data with areas in need of improvement. When we find those, we can retool the education assessment component so that improvement can occur.”

In the end, PQA Plus will make the whole educational process more seamless for the pork industry, notes Sundberg. “PQA is going to end up being more uniform in its application on the farm because of the additional training the current PQA educators will need due to the assessments and auditing process.”

It will become the pork chain's accepted foundation and baseline of animal care and food safety for the pork industry he says.

Group Forms Animal Welfare Business

Recognized authorities in animal husbandry, genetics, welfare science and veterinary medicine have joined to form Farm Animal Assessment Associates (FAAA).

The FAAA vision is to advance the welfare of farm animals by applying the best science available.

Charter members in the working group include animal scientists Stan Curtis, University of Illinois; John McGlone, Texas Tech University; Todd See, North Carolina State University; and swine veterinarian E. Wayne Johnson of Illinois.

“The FAAA credo is using science to bring value to the food chain by enhancing quality of life for livestock and poultry,” says Curtis. “The group is prompted by ethical concerns and public issues, but we are guided by objective evidence.”

“After all, in terms of animal welfare, science will be the basis of lasting resolution of these important issues,” relates McGlone.

The group will provide objective estimates of both benefits and costs of husbandry practices to optimize the welfare and utility of farm animals. Users can customize that approach to their needs.

“That flexibility makes the FAAA approach distinct. These models can accommodate each stakeholder client's special needs,” says See.

“The FAAA models are also flexible in that they can evolve over time along with our understanding of animal welfare,” notes Johnson. “And they can be applied either to improve animal welfare at one farm or across a commodity industry.”

For more information, visit the Web site at www.animalassessment.com or contact Curtis at securtis@animalassessment.com.