Levels I-III of the PQA program have been underway for a number of years -- so many, in fact, that we may have forgotten the questions surrounding the program as it started. It's been an unqualified success, but it did not start without concerns and detractors. Now, when PQA level IV, food safety, is beginning to take shape, we have the opportunity to reect and ask the same questions about the focus of this new level as we did for the initial program: Why should we bother? Won't it take a lot of time? What is the value to me, the producer, anyway?
Food safety principles can be recognized in the current PQA levels, for instance, proper use of antibiotics. Correct use of medication is linked to productivity in a straightforward manner. Overdosing may waste medication, increasing production cost, and may even cause toxicity in some cases. Pigs that are underdosed may remain ill, reducing performance, again lowering prots.
At first glance, other areas of food safety improvement at the farm may seem less connected to protability and production, but consider this example. Salmonella in pigs is affected by sanitation, rodent control and transportation. Poor sanitation practices may allow the organism to carry over from one group of pigs to another. This increases the risk of clinical disease and the potential for pigs to carry the zoonotic organism into the packing plant. By improving performance on the farm, improving food safety can be profitable for the producer immediately!
Lastly, and perhaps most critically, PQA IV is being driven by consumers and competitors. Food safety assurance will become essential to compete for high profit markets for our pork. The Danish Salmonella reduction program has succeeded in lowering the incidence of Salmonella in pigs at harvest to less than 3%. This gives them an edge in competitive export markets. However, producers in Denmark also have a powerful financial incentive to improve: limited access to markets, and price penalties of up to 9% gross sales, can be imposed on high Salmonella farms. They take food safety very seriously! Obviously, PQA Level IV will not impose that type of burden. However, the loss of important domestic and export markets is a reality today when food safety and brand identity is at risk.
PQA Level IV will provide veterinarians and producers with a new opportunity to improve herd performance and the quality of their products. As the details of the program come into view, the NPPC needs your feedback and support. Keep the PQA program growing and succeeding again.
John R. Kolb DVM
AASP Public Relations Committee