Pork - the other white meat - with feelings

By Pete Graham

Evidence continues to pile up, some of it anecdotal, but much of it certain, that growing numbers of people are concerned about the ethical treatment of animals by livestock producers in the process of getting their products to the dinner table.

Treatment of animals in general is a sensitive topic these days. Our family recently attended a performance of the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus, and much was made of the circus' evolving efforts to keep African elephants from being endangered, including a multi-million-dollar center for research the company funds in Florida. Meanwhile, though, there were no animal taming acts in the 2006 show. Instead, a lady came out and did low-impact tricks with small members of the feline domesticus line and some trained canines. No whip, no chair, no cages. A sea change for the Greatest Show on Earth.

But I digress. This week, the Pork Quality Assurance Plus Program was introduced at the World Pork Expo in Des Moines. It represents a serious attempt by pork producers to include the well-being of its animals in its quality control management, a nod to animal rights advocates who watch the livestock industry closely these days. Like the circus, the livestock producer is making a sea change in how he views the public's ideas about animal treatment - and his own.

A unit called the Pork Industry Animal Care Coalition will provide the PQA Plus, funded through the Pork Checkoff. The coalition is made up of pork producers, packers and processors, restaurants, and food retailers. It began meeting early in 2005 to work toward finding a way to build up consumer confidence that U.S. pork is produced by workers who respect an animal's well-being during the process.

Out of the talks came a solution that puts animal well-being into the PQA, making it PQA Plus. The Pork Checkoff's Swine Welfare Assistance Program (SWAP) was melded with the PQA certification program and focuses on producer education ands assessment of premises where hogs are raised.
According to Successful Farming Magazine, the early meetings made two things clear. The first was that demand for pork and pork products could wane if customer concerns about animal welfare were not addressed by the industry, and second, that producer support for a program to achieve that could only be obtained by offering a solution that was, to quote the magazine, "practical and affordable."
The coalition realized that no solution would completely satisfy opponents of animal agriculture, but the solution it came up with was aimed at answering the concerns of consumers, rather than being offered as an activist agenda, the magazine reported.

As it now stands, the PQA Plus program will be launched July 1 of next year and have a three-year period of implementation, to include producer testing and gathering of input and experiences in the field.

It would seem that concerns about how livestock are treated will only continue to grow as fewer and fewer Americans have any real contact with agriculture and the process by which food gets to the plate - or bun. I read the other day that animal activists were targeting an egg production farm in the Midwest, demanding that hens get more room to, well, be hens in. These types of incursions by activists are not going to go away.

It is vital that all livestock production take into consideration consumer concerns, and some of these consumers may live in Japan and Europe, as well as South America. Not only does the safety of U.S. produce have importance in world trade, but animal well-being is also important, whether the consumer be in the American 'burbs or beautiful downtown Bangkok.

Kudos to pork producers for leading the way in this vital change in the way we do business down on the farm.
I'll see ya!



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