At the annual meeting of the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA) in Des Moines in late January, delegates passed two resolutions dealing with hog transportation issues.
Both resolutions were jointly submitted by Lyon, Sioux and Plymouth County Pork Producers Associations, adjoining counties in northwest Iowa. Both dealt with the same basic concern — timely unloading of hogs at the packing plant.
Past IPPA president and Le Mars, IA, pork producer Bill Tentinger wrote one resolution highlighting the unloading problems at some area packing plants, which has truck drivers all riled up.
Many people involved in hauling hogs have been trained under the Trucker Quality Assurance (TQA) program, and they understand and have experience in animal handling procedures, Tentinger explains. They are trained to limit the amount of stress that pigs endure during transportation.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors, who are trained to inspect conditions inside slaughter plants but have limited training in animal handling, are coming out to the unloading area and stirring up conflict among truckers as they assert their authority, Tentinger observes.
Strict animal handling procedures at loadout, which have been imposed by packers, have some truckers upset.
“From all of the phone calls that I’ve been getting, the biggest complaint is that plant officials are tattooing those hogs right off the tailgate of the truck. So it is not unusual to have tattooed hogs end up back on the truck, and then you’ve got a circus and huge biosecurity concerns,” Tentinger points out.
Add to that, some plants continue to use out-of-date equipment.
“A lot of the truckers feel that the plant is not willing to change or upgrade their facilities and are not willing to hire extra help to unload the trucks, and the result is the truckers are penalized because it is costing the them more in time and trouble to unload,” he notes.
Truckers say they are being reprimanded without cause, and that while this issue surfaced initially at one major hog packing facility, problems of handling and unloading groups of hogs are starting to occur at other plants.
“This whole experience falls on the back of the driver just trying to deliver his load. These truck drivers are up in arms! Some drivers are even refusing to deliver hogs to the plants in question,” Tentinger reveals.
Resolutions to Pork Forum
IPPA passed this resolution: “Unloading practices may vary from one packing plant to another, such as tattooing immediately off the truck, as well as environmental distractions that include bright lights that inhibit the trucker’s ability to manage the stress on the animals.
“The Iowa Pork Producers Association, National Pork Board (NPB) and National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) work with all packers to implement best unloading equipment and practices to ensure safe, timely and least stressful unloading processes.”
The second resolution that was approved by Iowa delegates was written by Inwood, IA, pork producer and veterinarian Gene VerSteeg. Pork producers work hard to provide proper pig care using Pork Quality Assurance Plus guidelines. But these efforts are being circumvented by delays in unloading hogs at the packing plant, he says.
“I talked to Gene (VerSteeg) about his resolution, that everyone on the farm is receiving proper animal welfare training, and packers are now looking at third-party assessments to deal with animal handling concerns. So we are all totally focused on how we handle those animals. Yet sometimes we get hogs to the plant and can’t unload them,” Tentinger says.
Schedules for hog delivery to packing plants are very tight. Instructions are to not get there early — and not be more than 30 minutes late, he says. But if an inspector determines that there has been a violation of some sort anywhere on the line or with animal handling, that inspector has the power to shut the plant down until plant management can resolve the issue, Tentinger says.
Too many truckers end up sitting, waiting to unload their hogs. Sometimes drivers show up only to find the plant temporarily closed — without warning. “This creates a real concern, especially on a hot day,” Tentinger says.
The delegate body resolved that IPPA, NPB and NPPC work with USDA on developing an animal handling action plan with uniform standards and uniform penalties that do not include a plant shutdown.
Both resolutions were among those to be deliberated by delegates to the National Pork Industry Forum in Orlando, FL, in early March