National Pork Producers Council educates restaurant and retail leaders about proper pig housing and handling.

In apparent response to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), several major fast-food restaurants have announced their animal welfare guidelines for the farms and packing plants that supply their foods.

For example, late last year McDonald's announced new housing standards for laying hens for suppliers to their restaurants. Last month, Burger King endorsed animal well-being guidelines, including the American Meat Institute good management practices for handling and stunning, the United Egg Producers' guidelines for laying hens and the National Chicken Council's guidelines for broiler chickens.

No announcements have been directed at the pork production industry, but producers cannot be complacent, says Paul Sundberg, DVM, assistant vice president for veterinary issues for National Pork Producers Council (NPPC).

“This is a serious matter. We have to address this straight on,” Sundberg says. “This has the potential to affect the way producers do business on the farm.”

PETA is changing its method for gaining media attention. They used to throw pies in the faces of pork queens. Now activists focus their efforts directly on pressuring major restaurants and retailers and on the government, Sundberg says.

PETA is learning from animal welfare changes initiated in Europe, he says.

The hog industry there has been decimated by well-meaning but politically motivated changes in animal welfare and housing. Producers believed they would receive higher prices by using the prescribed production systems, but they have not realized the higher returns.

Countering with Information

NPPC is working with those major retailers and restaurants in hopes of informing management and leadership personnel about pork industry handling and housing guidelines.

“We will be the source of objective, credible information for consumers and retailers to turn to when they are approached by PETA,” says Sundberg. “We will use sound science to address these issues.”

What about Producers?

Producers need to make sure their production and animal handling practices follow industry standards, Sundberg says.

For more information about these standards, go to

Meanwhile, the NPPC animal welfare committee is working on an objective monitoring system. This system would allow producers to critically assess how their production facilities and handling affect the welfare of their animals.

Du Breton Natural Pork Earns Animal Welfare Certification

The all-natural, antibiotic-free pork marketed by du Breton Natural Pork, based in Notre-Dame-du-Lac, Quebec, is the first pork product to earn the American Humane Association's (AHA) “free farmed” certification.

The certification allows du Breton to use the “free farmed” logo on its pork package labels. The company's meat is marketed by Whole Foods Markets throughout the U.S.

“We are honored that Farm Animal Services has certified our farms, facilities and practices as meeting the American Humane Association's standards for pigs as humane,” says Mario Maillet, du Breton's assistant general manager.

Farm Animal Services (FAS) was created as a separate non-profit organization to monitor and implement AHA standards. FAS is audited by the Agricultural Marketing Service of USDA, says FAS executive director Adele Douglass.

The AHA standards are based on the British Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Guidelines. The AHA committee of animal scientists worked on the standards for three years and included practical knowledge from producers, Douglass says. The program was introduced last fall.

Thus far, six U.S. farms — including beef cattle, dairy, egg and broiler chicken producers — have earned the certification.

Under the program, each farm is visited by a FAS inspector, who must be a veterinarian or have a master's degree or higher in animal science. Extensive recordkeeping also is required.

The FAS inspectors are willing to work with producers to make improvements and to help them meet the standards, Douglass says. The FAS charges pork producers a $400/year inspection fee and a $0.50/head royalty for the inspection service.

In turn, the AHA and FAS are working to inform consumers, through advertising and direct marketing, to look for meat, dairy and egg products with the “free farmed” logo.

The organization is looking to the future, recognizing that the U.S. will need some type of standard to keep exports flowing, Douglass says.

“This is a future trend in trade,” she says. “Ultimately the EU will have welfare standards; the Japanese want antibiotic-free meat. This standard will give the U.S. a leg up.”

Here are some of the rules included in the AHA standards:

  • Use of subtherapeutic antibiotics and mammalian-derived protein (except milk products) is prohibited. Antibiotics can be used for disease treatment for individual pigs.

  • Sows must be fed to body condition and in ways that avoid bullying. Management during gestation should allow 80-100 lb. weight gain in gilts, 80-90 lb. gain for sows in parities 2 to 5 and 55 lb. gain for parities 6 and higher.

  • All limit-fed gilts and sows must have access to straw or other foraging medium. This material must be topped up at least every three days;

  • Pigs housed indoors must have access to a solid floor sloped for drainage or bedded to provide a dry lying area.

  • Sows may not be housed in individual stalls. The only times an animal may be closely confined include examination, testing, blood sampling or treatment for veterinary purposes; for feeding; for marking, washing or weighing; during artificial insemination; while pens are cleaned or while awaiting transportation.

  • Pigs must not be weaned before 3 weeks of age. Ear notching and tattooing must be done before pigs are 5 days of age.

  • Needle teeth may be trimmed within 48 hours or three days for weak or sick piglets.

  • Tail docking is permitted, although it is against AHA standards. Officials expect this standard to be revisited as husbandry methods are found to prevent tail biting.

  • Castration must be done before pigs are 7 days of age.

  • Sows must be housed in a farrowing pen that allows them to turn around. Turn-around crates, sloped farrowing pens and outdoor huts are allowed. Pens should be at least 5 × 7 ft.; 10 × 10 ft. pens are recommended and require a 8 sq. ft. heated piglet zone.

  • Managers must implement a training program for animal caretakers.

  • Caretakers must be able to recognize normal and abnormal behavior, fear and common disease. They must have knowledge of body conditioning, understand the anatomy of the normal foot, understand farrowing and care of newborn piglets and have knowledge of humane methods of handling and loading.

  • Managers must ensure the veterinary health plan is implemented and updated.

  • Managers also must develop a transport plan and emergency euthanasia plan.

  • Use of electric prods is prohibited unless animal and human safety are in jeopardy. Pig paddles and sorting boards can be used.