There’s more to World Pork Expo than meets the eye. If all you see is a trade show or barbecue contest then you’ve missed a lot. The true points of interest are found beneath the surface.

Producer attendance was down, and so were the allied-industry exhibits, but there were plenty of other items worth noting.

  • National Pork Producers Council’s Producer-Consent Program. First, understand that NPPC receives no checkoff funding. Also know that NPPC tackles some of the industry’s more critical issues by addressing legislative, regulatory and public-policy items.

    A year ago, NPPC rolled out its voluntary Producer-Consent Program. It’s been a long, dry year, only 530 producer entities representing 16 million hogs have signed up. It has generated about $200,000, but that’s not nearly enough. 

    The packer/processor segment has given more money than producers have; the same goes for allied industry. WPX itself is NPPC’s biggest cash cow.

    The goal is to sign up 20,000 producer entities, equaling 60 million hogs within the next year. Things need to get rolling if NPPC is going to reach even the halfway point. 

  • Swine Welfare Assurance Program. The National Pork Board offered a peek at its Swine Welfare Assurance Program scheduled for release Aug. 1. The voluntary program is divided into two stages: 1) gilts, sows, boars and neonatal piglets; 2) nursery and grow/finish pigs.

    NPB had been working on SWAP before the Food Marketing Institute and National Council of Chain Restaurants came out with their directive on animal handling, but its importance has since grown.

    The key here is that you can use SWAP to evaluate and track management. It can identify weaknesses before they become problems. It demonstrates your commitment to animal well-being; and it can help you maintain a market. Don’t sell that last point short.

  • PRRS is still No. 1. Talking with one of the industry’s top independent producers about how porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome keeps nagging at his herd – sometimes causing 30 percent mortality – there’s no question that PRRS remains the No. 1 disease.

    Reasons for the lack of progress are as complex as the PRRS virus itself.

    NPB officials announced a 13-point plan to find solutions. You’ll be reading a lot more about that in the months and years to come.

  • Critical Trade Issues. With the United States shipping nearly 10 percent of its annual pork production into foreign markets, trade is a critical issue. 

    The United States’ chief ag negotiator spoke at a trade session where the discussion turned to country-of-origin labeling. Also attending was Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, who was surprised to find that the 75 or so producers in the room not only didn’t like the proposed law, but how strongly they opposed it. Still, he said he’d fight to implement COOL.   

  • One Animal Away. With Canada’s bovine spongiform encephalopathy case only a few week’s old, it weighed heavily on peoples’ minds. “We’re only one animal away…” commented more than one veterinarian, as they thought about the potential devastation that a similar disease would bring to the United States.

    Some type of food-animal trace-back system is a likely, eventual outcome of Canada’s BSE episode as the United States evaluates and tightens its protocols. 

  • Meat Quality Slipping. Not all of the 2003 Pork Quality Audit results are complete, but some early signs show pork is headed in the wrong direction. It revealed lack of carcass uniformity is the No. 1 cost to the industry.

    Also, pale soft and exudative pork has increased from 10.2 percent in the 1996 survey, to 15.5 percent in the current survey.

  • New Products in the Meat Case. On a positive note, even a quick glance at a meat-case display illustrated the commitment that packer/processors make to sell more pork. Products like pre-spiced or marinated, individually packaged boneless pork chops offer consumers convenience and flavor that compete head-to-head with other proteins. Now, that’s adding value.

After 15 years, WPX could use a major overhaul. But, like most things, it’s not what you see at first glance that will make a difference to you or your business, it’s what you discover beneath the surface.