People generally don’t like to be told what to do. Farmers, in particular, have long been the beacons of independence. Of course with the growth of contracting, networking and alliances, pork producer independence has softened somewhat.

The fact is no one is completely independent there are rules and requirements throughout our lives that we have to follow. You have always had to meet certain criteria to sell hogs whether it is in terms of meeting weight ranges or backfat standards in order to get top dollar at market.

The thing is, today’s demands reach more broadly into your business and the price of not complying is much higher. Take for example, Farmland’s certified production program. (See the August 2000 issue of Pork.) Some people are upset that Farmland is dictating production protocols from genetics to animal handling in order for a producer to sell hogs to the “cooperative’s” packing plant.

I’m not going to debate whether Farmland’s program is good or bad. However, I do believe that certified production systems will be part of the pork industry’s future.

The motivation for prescription agriculture can be traced back to the consumer.

We all know that consumers want a consistent, safe, high-quality product. One way to provide that is to control inputs, which means hog carcasses. Yes, the packers do benefit from efficiencies that production protocols create.

The explosion of branded pork products is another factor. Packers and processors want to ensure that their final products meet certain standards. One way to do that is to control inputs.

Yet another part of the movement toward prescription (or certified) pork can be attributed to the federal government’s Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points program. HACCP places the responsibility for preventing chemical, physical and pathogenic hazards from entering the food chain squarely on the packers’ shoulders.

How can packers strengthen their HACCP programs? Control inputs.

The food safety issue will continue to pressure pork production.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is considering a new rule, under which any time a drug residue is found in the organs of a carcass, the entire carcass will be destroyed. Previously, a residue in organs would prompt inspectors to test muscle tissues. If the muscle tested negative, the carcass could be used.

National Meat Association officials argue that packers don’t control the amount or the way in which drugs are used in the animals they process. While that may be true today, tomorrow may be a different story.

The FSIS rule is still being developed, but this type of regulation will cause the food chain to require more from you.

To be fair, it’s not just packers who are making on-farm demands. McDonald’s has told egg producers that anyone selling to the golden arches can not house laying hens in “small cages or withhold food and water to encourage molting” (which increases egg production).

Earlier this summer, a member of McDonald’s committee for humane animal handling said producers should expect welfare-related requirements to make their way onto the farm. Previously, McDonald’s had focused on the transportation and slaughter sectors.

Some prducer groups are taking it upon themselves to require participants to raise hogs under certain conditions to meet the needs of certain markets. (See “Minnesota Certified” on page 24 in the June 2000 issue of Pork.)

The European Union is proposing a food safety program similar to the U.S. HACCP system. It would make producers responsible for food safety, complete with trace-back procedures. Many EU countries already have certified production. That’s one reason why Denmark is the No. 1 exporter.

Whether it’s food safety, humane treatment, environmental stewardship or something else, others will demand more from your on-farm actions. It’s important to recognize these trends so that whether you embrace or reject certified production systems, you can find the right prescription to keep your business thriving.