Ater outbreaks of foodborne illness, controversy over genetically modified foods and other issues of the past decade, today’s consumer is skeptical of the food supply. In response to consumer concerns, Farmland has developed America’s Best Pork, which centers on a production verification program.

“We felt it was important from a customer standpoint to improve quality and food safety and that’s what the program is built around,” says Jerry Lehenbauer, director of America’s Best Pork.

‘Farrow to fork’ has become an industry catch phrase, but the ABP program takes it a step further. Starting with genetic selection, the ABP program begins even before farrowing.

The program currently involves 170,000 sows, which represent about 3 million market hogs, or about half of Farmland’s
total slaughter capacity. This includes about 38,000 Farmland-owned sows.

For now, only Farmland members can participate in ABP because there isn’t enough slaughter and processing capacity to broaden the program. As Farmland expands slaughter capacity, the company will consider other options if it can’t get enough hogs from co-op members, says Lehenbauer. The goal is to have 75 percent of Farmland’s slaughter capacity used for America’s Best Pork in three years.

Market access ranks high on the list of program advantages, at least for some producers. “Eventually, you may need to be aligned with some kind of program like this to sell your hogs,” says Paul Appell, a producer with 450 sows in Altona, Ill. “Some markets have certain specifications and you need a way to verify that your hogs meet that criteria.

The ABP program starts with the same principles as the Pork Quality Assurance Program, but goes further. While production guidelines are similar, more records are required for verification.

“All of the program’s management aspects are things you should be doing anyway, it’s just a matter of a little more recordkeeping,” says Appell. “It raises the bar for pork production.”

The ABP marketing program gives you a menu of pricing options and includes risk protection in the form of a price floor. Based on historical analysis these pricing options have outperformed the open market, according to Lehenbauer.

“The ABP program directly benefits independent producers because it allows them access to some of the tools of large integrators: like genetics and a vertically coordinated system,” says Lehenbauer. “Indirectly it helps producers cut costs by participating in a continuous improvement process. We expect our genetic improvements to save producers 40 cents per pig per year through better production efficiencies.”

Third-party verification is one of the program’s main hooks. USDA will handle verification, which basically means it can inspect records from any farm or can inspect any Farmland plant at random, and will perform a full audit at least annually. For biosecurity reasons USDA is not expected to inspect live animals or the inside of on-farm facilities.

Specific genetics, a 15-point process verification program and a marketing agreement with Farmland are all part of the package to participate in America’s Best Pork. Appell says nothing within the program caused any major challenges for his operation. However, the genetics requirement could and has been a deterrent for some.

While the program requires you to use Triumph genetics, it doesn’t mandate a herd depopulation. Instead, you can replace current genetics with Triumph genetics under a normal replacement schedule.

“We’re concerned about uniformity and pork quality traits and it’s easier if we start with genetics that we know have those quality traits,” says Lehenbauer.

The ABP program incorporates standards for the packer, as well. Pork processed within the program will be segregated from other pork at Farmland’s processing facility allowing for 100 percent traceability back to the farm. Only that pork will be marketed under the Farmland label as “USDAProcess Verified.”

In the end, the entire program breaks down to supply and demand. Consumers demand the quality and safety assurances from today’s food products, so Farmland now has a new program to supply those consumers with pork.

“These production practices and food safety assurances are what the consumer wants and this program allows Farmland to verify that for the consumer,” says Appell.

Farmland’s 15-Points of Light

“Give ‘em what they want” could be the slogan of Farmland’s verified production program that involves 15 management, handling and genetic principles. The point is to deliver quality, consistency and safety to consumers in the form of America’s Best Pork. The branded products will be 100 percent traceable throughout the cooperative’s pork chain, which will integrate producers through to the meat case.

Program participants have to commit to the following list of best management practices.

1. Triumph Genetics

    All replacement boars and gilts and all semen must be from Triumph genetics.

    Minimum yearly female replacement rate must be met.

    When natural breeding is incorporated only Triumph boars may be used.


2. ABP Nutritional


    Speculations

    Dietary nutrient specifications approved by America’s Best Pork nutrition review committee must be used.

    Certain feed ingredients are prohibited.


3. Feed Manufacturing


    Quality Control

    Batching, sequencing, flushing and sample retention procedures along with related feed production records must be maintained as defined by the Food and Drug Administration’s “Current Good Manufacturing Practice Regulations for Feeds.”


4. APHIS-approved


    Biologics

    Only USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services-approved biologics can be used.

    Autogenous vaccines are allowed only if manufactured at a USDA-approved facility.

    Farm vaccination records must be properly maintained and readily available for inspection, as required by Pork Quality Assurance Level III.


5. AMDUCA Restrictions for Pharmaceutical Drug Use


    All phamaceutical drug use must comply with FDA regulations and restrictions as provided in the Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act.

    Veterinarian prescription or veterinarian-approved standing treatment protocols must be on file and available for inspection.

    Compounded drugs and antibiotics used for humans are strictly prohibited from pork production use.


6. Tetracycline Restriction


    Use of tetracycline in feed or water is prohibited for 15 days prior to slaughter.

    All animal treatments by pen or barn must have recorded documentation.


7. Sulfa Drug Restriction


    Use of sulfa drugs in feed or water is prohibited for 100 days prior to slaughter.

    All animal treatments by pen or barn must have recorded documentation.


8. Injection Restriction


    Injections are prohibited for 30 days prior to slaughter.

    Any individual animal treated by injection within that time must be identified by an ear tag and removed from the America’s Best

    Pork program.

    All animal treatments by pen or barn must have recorded documentation.


9. On-farm Animal Handling


    Establish a practice of walking amongst the pigs two to three times a week.

    Animals must be sprinkled or misted after loading when ambient temperatures exceed the “danger” category as indicated by the “Livestock Weather Safety Index,” which takes into account both heat and humidity.

    Use only defined methods to move pigs.


10. Transportation


    The truck or trailer must be sprinkled with water prior to loading animals when ambient temperatures exceed the “danger” category as indicated by the Livestock Weather Safety Index.

    Truck panels must be used when the windchill temperature falls below 30F, as indicated on the “Windchill Chart.”

    Adequate bedding must be used.

    Trucks must be kept clean.

    Use defined methods to load and unload pigs.


11. PQA Level III


    Drug treatment records must be maintained including group, pen and/or individual pig treatment records.

    Unit managers and supervisors must achieve PQA Level III certification within six months of joining the program.


12. On-farm Food Safety


    Dead animals must be promptly removed.

    Maintain effective perimeter pest control.

    Properly tag all animals with a known broken needle.


13. Plant Preharvest Handling


    Use defined methods to move pigs.

    Rest animals for a least one undisturbed hour before slaughter.

    Sprinkle or mist animals when ambient temperatures exceed the “danger” category as indicated by the Livestock Weather Safety Index.

    Animals must have access to water.

    Use defined stunner placement and settings.


14. Environmental Protection


    Carcass disposal must comply with all applicable federal, state and local laws and ordinances.

    Producer must complete an NPPC On-Farm Odor/ Environmental Assistance Program audit.


15. Product Segregation


    ABP Process Verified pigs will be tracked by lot from the production stages to the plant, through the slaughter and processing phases and onto the final product packaging.

    The producer, transporter and Farmland employee who receive the hog shipment must all sign a form saying they followed all process verification procedures.