The days of society being tied to the farm and understanding why you do what you do are gone. You have to accept that fact and move on.
Of course, that’s easier said than done, because farmers get really frustrated with people challenging their actions and intentions.
Bottom line, the world is different. Sure, the world is always changing, but the rate is much faster today. No question, consumers are very different. They have more choices, they are less loyal, and more competitors are ready to meet their needs. The Internet provides access to more information (accurate or not), and consumers expect more from companies and product suppliers.
Overall, there’s probably less trust and more skepticism, and that’s especially true with “traditional” food suppliers.
Meanwhile, pork producers have closed up their facilities and locked people out. You and I know that’s to protect the animals’ health and well-being, but that’s not how it plays with the public. You must be hiding something.
That’s one reason why it’s so easy for activists to play the factory farming and animal abuse cards.
Now, you can try to educate consumers and argue your point, but they’re really not interested, especially because they see you as a biased source. However, actions really do speak loud, and you have a golden opportunity awaiting you.
This month the industry, through the National Pork Board, is rolling out its PQA Plus program. It merges the food-safety-driven Pork Quality Assurance III program with the Swine Welfare Assurance Program. It’s available to anyone and everyone involved with pork production, and it’s a must-do.
It is a way for you to identify and verify what you do behind those closed doors. It is a way for you to demonstrate your social responsibility, build your customers’ trust and polish your image. It is a way for the industry to act together with one animal-care and food-safety program versus segmenting into individual programs and further confusing the issue and customers.
Most importantly, it is a way to take ownership of two critical issues — food safety and animal well-being. The PQA Plus program is a positive, proactive way to deflate the activists’ efforts.
Will it work? Maybe; that remains to be seen. But a coalition of producers, scientists, packers, grocers and foodservice entities worked together on the effort. Companies such as McDonald’s have endorsed it, saying “we support this process, which allowed the entire chain to come together and develop this solution.” That’s a very good start.
Besides, any well-managed operation is already addressing most of the program requirements, and if you’re not, you need to get there soon. It’s logical that packers and other customers will eventually require program participation before they’ll buy your product.
There are three stages to PQA Plus.
One involves individuals. Anyone associated with the operation, from the farrowing manager to the bookkeeper, can go through the program. Much like PQA III, it involves a two-hour training program, leading to certification.
The next stage is an on-farm assessment. This involves a certified advisor coming on site to evaluate your procedures. The advisor also can help you address challenges that might surface.
In a third stage, operations that have passed site evaluations could be selected for a random audit. It’s worth noting that this is not designed as an audit of the producer, rather an audit of the program’s effectiveness and to identify any needed adjustments.
What will it cost? That depends on the trainer and advisor, which could be your veterinarian, Extension specialist or other program-certified personnel. It also depends on how deep you move into the three stages. Your certification is good for three years, before it has to be renewed. For anyone now enrolled in PQA III (which most of you are), that certification is still valid until it is scheduled to expire. When it does, you’ll need to sign on to PQA Plus or you’re on your own.
You’ve come to accept, even expect, new tools in swine genetics, feeding regimens and systems management. This is simply a tool to help you illustrate that you run a responsible business.
By embracing PQA Plus, you take ownership of the food-safety and animal well-being issues. You move from being a target to being in charge.
For more about PQA Plus, go to www.pork.org, or call (800) 456-PORK.