I have long been amazed at the numerous and varied tools that pork producers have available to them. Universities, government, associations, consultants all work diligently to find ways to make your business run more efficiently, profitably and even more responsibly.

Leading the list of contributors has to be the national pork checkoff. You rarely see its full impact because so much of the money and effort works behind the scenes.

Today, you have one more checkoff-funded tool in your box. After three years of planning, studying, testing and tweaking, the National Pork Board rolled out its Swine Welfare Assurance Program last month. You may be familiar with its kin – the Pork Quality Assurance program, Trucker Quality Assurance program and the Environmental Assessment Program.

SWAP doesn’t fall far from the family tree. It is a voluntary, science-based program, developed by some of the industry’s leading experts, including pork producers. It is available to all producers, regardless of operation size or type. Trained and certified personnel conduct an on-farm assessment, and the information remains confidential to the producer.

Participants do have an opportunity to submit their information anonymously to an NPB secured database, which would greatly benefit the pork industry. An excellent and easy way to give something back. 

Each SWAP assessment will address nine animal care and well-being sectors:

1. Herd Health and Nutrition: This looks at six recordkeeping areas, including those that document the veterinarian-client-patient relationship; herd-health program; medication and treatment activities; mortality rates; pigs euthanized; and nutritional programs.

2. Caretaker Training: The focus is on caretakers’ husbandry skills and training. It evaluates the operation’s training programs in euthanasia, animal handling and husbandry. It also looks at career-development practices.

3. Animal Observation: It includes daily observations, animal evaluations, pig social contact and response to humans.

4. Body Condition Score: A crucial area for evaluating the adequacy of nutrition programs, especially for sows.

5. Euthanasia: Measures the operation’s euthanasia action plan, including application timeliness, methods and equipment used.

6. Animal Handling and Movement: Evaluates animal-handling techniques, the facility and equipment used to move animals.

7. Facilities: Evaluates ventilation, heating and cooling, the animal’s physical space, pen maintenance, feeder space, water availability and hospital pen use.

8. Emergency Support: Involves a working emergency support system and a written action plan.

9. Continuing Education: Improves management skills through educational opportunities to access the latest information on animal-care practices.

The American Association of Swine Veterinarians’ has endorsed the program. Its members will be among the available certified SWAP assessors. AASV’s endorsement won’t hurt SWAP’s chances of convincing the National Council of Chain Restaurants and the Food Marketing Institute to embrace it as the assessment and auditing arm of its animal well-being program. NCCR/FMI members (U.S. grocers and restaurateurs) have said they will not purchase meat products from suppliers who don’t meet their animal well-being standards. NCCR/FMI should make a decision on SWAP before year’s end. 

But for you right now, SWAP offers some benefits, with little investment. The audit will reveal much about your operation, employees and yourself. You will likely find places to improve production, and hence, profitability. It reflects a certain level of professionalism on you, and sends a signal to others in the organization that you expect the same from them. It can help you secure a long-term market for your product.

It shows that you are a responsible food producer who cares about his/her animals – and the consumer who buys your product. That alone is worth your involvement.

SWAP is one more tool. It’s up to you to use it.