News from the National Pork Board

The pork chain's united front on animal welfare

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Pork producers in the United States take exceptional care of their pigs. Challenges have arisen, however, as producers have been asked to prove to the public that care of their animals meets a generally accepted standard of high-quality care.

Pork producers, through their investment in the Pork Checkoff, responded to this challenge in 2002 by developing the Swine Welfare Assurance Program (SWAP). Many AASV members became SWAP educators and SWAP instructors. SWAP was developed by a panel of producers, veterinarians, and animal behavior experts as a self-improvement program based on nine sound principles of high-quality care. A trained third-party assessor visits the producer's farm and reviews the SWAP checklist with the producer, identifying areas needing improvement. SWAP does not include a pass-fail component, although producers completing the process with a trained educator are recognized as SWAP-assessed.

In 2004, the National Council of Chain Restaurants (NCCR) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), representing the nation's food retailers and food-service providers, began looking for ways to certify a swine well-being process so that its members could, if asked, assure customers that the meat they are buying has been humanely raised. The associations developed the Animal Welfare Audit Program (AWAP), an independent third-party audit based largely on the principles in SWAP. A significant problem arose when NCCR and FMI decided that every producer whose pork ultimately is sold to an NCCR-FMI member would be subject to this audit and would pay all charges for the audit. Two agricultural economists studied the AWAP auditing process and concluded the program would cost the industry millions of dollars annually.

It became apparent during 2004 that producers would not accept the AWAP audit program, resulting in a stalemate in the effort to certify a humane-care process. After this breakdown, several of the affected parties concluded that all interested parties needed to sit at the same table and hammer out a mutually agreeable solution.

On March 14, 2005, approximately 20 participants, representing pork producers, packer-processors, and some of the nation's leading restaurants and food retailers, met in Chicago to resolve animal well-being concerns to the satisfaction of the restaurants and retail companies present, the packer-processor community, and the pork production industry. The participants agreed at that first meeting that any solution would have to be workable, credible, and affordable for all parties.

Subsequent meetings of this broad-based coalition throughout 2005 and early 2006 resulted in an agreement. In brief, that agreement calls for the SWAP assessment to become part of the Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) program, a comprehensive educational program that producers must complete once every 3 years in order to have access to most of the nation's packing plants. Each year, a statistically valid sample of those with PQA certification will be selected for an audit by an independent third-party auditor who will be looking to see that the PQA-SWAP program is meeting its objectives of continuously improving the care of animals.

The agreement, carrying the signatures of all participants in the Chicago meetings as well as other supporters, was announced to producers and the public at the World Pork Expo in Des Moines, Iowa, in June 2006. Implementation of the program is scheduled to begin on July 1, 2007.

Postweaning multisystemic wasting syndrome and porcine circovirus type 2 research funding by the National Pork Board

Postweaning multisystemic wasting syndrome (PMWS) and porcine circovirus type 2- (PCV2-) related research is one of the funding priorities for the Pork Checkoff in 2006. The Pork Checkoff has programmed $300,000 for the funding of six research projects related to PMWS and PCV2. The projects were received following two calls for proposals in early February.

A new call for proposals, dated April 4, was sent out on behalf of the Pork Checkoff in cooperation with the US Department of Agriculture and with a deadline of May 1. Total funding from this call is $280,000.

Dr Pamela Zaabel, director of swine information and research, is the Pork Checkoff's liaison between the swine health committee and the researchers involved in PCV2 and PMWS projects. Zaabel has also coordinated the development of informational material on PCV2-associated diseases for producers. A brochure prepared in conjunction with the AASV and a technical newsletter are available from the Pork Checkoff at 800-456-PORK.

Take Care practitioner project

The Pork Checkoff's Take Care -- Use Antibiotics Responsibly(TM) program was launched in February 2005. The program was developed to encourage producers to follow specific principles and guidelines for the use of antibiotics to minimize the risk of antibiotic resistance.

Acceptance among producers who were individually introduced to the program was positive, and by the end of 2005, producers representing up to 40% of the pigs marketed annually had endorsed the program. Delivery of information about the program and subsequent producer endorsement has been more challenging with smaller, independent producers, who have not received an individual introduction to the program.

The Take Care practitioner project aims at using veterinarians to measure changes in attitudes and behaviors regarding antibiotic use among producers who adhere to the Take Care principles and guidelines. Through this project, the Checkoff also hopes to develop new educational materials that may help communicate the program to producers who have not yet endorsed it.

Producers who have implemented the Take Care program signaled practitioners as their main influencers in the decision-making process about antibiotic use. Veterinarians have the understanding of production and pharmaceutical issues to help train clients about the program and to develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) for their producers' operations that comply with the Take Care principles and guidelines. Veterinarians also have the observational skills necessary to help measure changes in attitudes and behavior among their clients.

Dr David Bane and Dr James Lehman will coordinate the Take Care practitioner project and will serve as the interface with 10 swine or mixed-animal veterinary clinics located in six midwestern states.

Each clinic will develop a strategy for delivery of the Take Care program to selected producers in their clientele. Additionally, the clinic will select two to three clients to work with individually to implement Take Care on the farm. On these farms, veterinarians will work with the project coordinators to objectively survey and measure attitudes and behaviors about antibiotic use.

Results from these surveys will be compared to responses obtained from operations that have not implemented the Take Care principles and guidelines. Because accurate on-farm antibiotic use is difficult to measure, changes in attitudes and behaviors are expected to be good indicators for future use.

Clinics will be asked to provide reports to the project coordinator about their success with the program, including copies of SOPs, record-keeping documents, and other materials developed by the clinic during implementation of the program with its clients. Each clinic will also provide a discussion of the successes and failures and suggestions for improvement of the program. The Checkoff hopes to develop tools that will aid other veterinarians to present the program to their clients.