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Pork producers discuss industry issues at the Pork Industry Forum

Pork Act delegates discussed some of the key issues, challenges, and opportunities facing the pork industry during the annual business meeting of the US pork industry, the Pork Industry Forum, in Dallas, Texas, in March.

The 161 pork producers and pork importers selected by their peers to function as Pork Act delegates met to set the direction for Pork Checkoff business, including determining the rate of the Checkoff and the amount of Pork Checkoff revenue distributed to state pork associations for Checkoff-funded programs. Delegates also nominated producers, importers, and producer-importers for appointment to the National Pork Board. The recommendations concerning the Pork Checkoff and the appointments to the National Pork Board were made to the US Secretary of Agriculture, who will make the final determination.

The theme this year was “Principles, Practices, and Proof: The Path to Success.” Discussions surrounding the theme included voting for support of the “We Care” responsible pork-production initiative, an initiative meant to demonstrate that US pork producers are accountable to established ethical principles and animal well-being practices. The We Care initiative was created following the 2008 Pork Industry Forum, where delegates advised the National Pork Board of the need to share our stories and commitment to social responsibility with the public. The initiative is supported by the Pork Checkoff through the National Pork Board, and by the National Pork Producers Council.

At this year’s meeting, pork delegates vowed to work with the state pork associations they represent to advance the We Care initiative and help producers share the industry’s ethical principles with their communities and the public. The part of this work that will represent the proof will be producer’s commitment to participate and certify in PQA Plus.

Information on the We Care initiative, the statement of ethical principles of US pork producers, and PQA Plus can be found online at www.pork.org.

PQA Plus update

Two years after its launch in June 2007, producer participation in PQA Plus has been strong. Over 26,000 pork producers had received PQA Plus certification and over 3400 production sites had undergone PQA Plus site assessment to receive PQA Plus site status by April 1, 2009. Strengthening participation has come as a result of major packers requiring certification of pork suppliers and PQA Plus site assessments of source farms. The interest on the part of the industry’s customers is expected to rise.

The increased participation brings with it the need for PQA Plus advisors. Advisors are veterinarians, animal scientists, University Extension specialists, or agriculture educators with a bachelor of science degree in animal science or a related degree. They also must have 2 years of recent documented swine-production experience. Advisors must attend a PQA Plus training session and successfully pass an examination. To learn more about PQA Plus or about how to become a PQA Plus advisor, interested candidates can contact the Pork Checkoff at 800-456-PORK or visit www.pork.org.

Responding to the challenges of today’s industry

Feed costs, diseases, and challenging financial times are some of the issues pork producers, management companies, and swine veterinarians face today. As these are objective issues, most in the industry feel they can understand – and even manage – these problems using sound science or sound business practices. But what happens when the issues confronting the industry do not have scientific answers? How does one respond to situations that cannot be measured or predicted? How should the industry respond when activists take it on?

In the past 18 months, the industry has received negative media attention. From articles associating methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in communities to pork production, to video captured undercover on farms, the attention has come from various sources. A detailed narration of one of these events can be found online in the February 2009 issue of the Special Edition Pork Checkoff Report newsletter (http://www.pork.org/NewsAndInformation/News/docs/FEBnewsletter.pdf). The newsletter also has tips and advice on how to prepare for these events and advice on how to manage an issue when it happens.

The Pork Checkoff, the AASV, and other industry partners continue to work together to help pork producers and organizations respond to these events. Additionally, the organizations have taken the role of responding to the media for issues that fall within their mandates. However, prevention also is the best remedy for these situations. Simply not letting them happen is the best path to take.

The Pork Checkoff has several new resources available to industry to address some of these issues. The Emergency Action Plan kit (available at the Pork Expo) is a template for creating an emergency action plan customized to an operation. While the plan is developed as an aid to responding to a crisis situation, completing the plan will help everyone involved in an operation think through potential emergencies, including public-relations crises, before they happen.

The Checkoff also has developed a human resources toolkit, a constantly updated series of documents developed to help those in charge of staffing decisions understand employee candidates and their weaknesses and strengths, and weed out those with ulterior motives to prevent them accessing a farm. The HR toolkit also has samples of statements that can be used to communicate and enforce animal well-being policies held by an employer.

Finally, the industry has the framework to educate producers in good production practices that affect public health, food safety, and animal well-being. That framework is PQA Plus. The industry’s participation in the certification program and on-site assessments is a step in the right direction of proving our commitment to doing the right thing.