Pioneer Hi-Bred, Ford, John Deere, McDonald’s and Sears — what do they have in common? All are companies that have chosen to make themselves accountable to their customers, employees and communities. They’ve also chosen to “give back to society” by working to improve consumers’ lives, care for the environment or contribute to some other aspect of public good. Businesses have termed this corporate social responsibility.

Smart thinking says pork producers aren’t any different from these companies. In the past two decades, the pork industry has voluntarily embraced programs that ensure the production of a safe food product, promote animal well-being, protect public health and address worker safety. 

In 1989, the industry voluntarily developed Pork Quality Assurance — a set of food-safety guidelines designed to reduce violative residues and physical hazards in pork. June 2007 brought changes to PQA. The content has been revised and expanded to include animal care and well-being principles (previously part of the Swine Welfare Assurance Program), as well as principles and guidelines for responsible antibiotic use (also known as the Take Care, Use Antibiotics Responsibly program). 

The new PQA Plus demonstrates to customers that pork producers are responsible for their actions and for the safety of their product.  PQA Plus is a step toward gaining customers’ trust and improving pork production’s image. 

PQA Plus involves 10 good production practices and a site assessment, which may be used on the farm to reduce costs, and gain production and labor efficiencies. It also can help personnel within production sites establish a mentality of continuous improvement. Many of the practices are already in place on farms across the country; adopting PQA Plus is simply a way to demonstrate that commitment.

Here’s a brief summary of the good production practices applied in PQA Plus.

GPP #1: Establish and implement an efficient and effective herd-health management plan. A plan that includes a comprehensive biosecurity program and routine veterinary visits contributes to improved herd health and can reduce medical interventions and costs. All other things being equal, healthy animals grow faster and more efficiently. PQA Plus guides caretakers through herd-health management activities and includes a herd-health and biosecurity checklist to benchmark their operations.

GPP #2: Use an appropriate veterinarian/client/patient relationship — VCPR — as the basis to make medication decisions. A veterinarian’s knowledge and experience can increase the management and treatment options available to you. PQA Plus explains the responsibilities that a producer and veterinarian acquire when they enter into a VCPR and the laws that regulate this relationship. 

GPP #3: Use antibiotics responsibly. The principles and guidelines in the Take Care, Use Antibiotics Responsibly program, now part of PQA Plus, help producers make decisions on the correct use of antibiotics by considering the potential impact on public health, animal health and food safety.

GPP #4: Identify and track all treated animals. Accurate recordkeeping requires some type of animal identification.  Individual animal or group/pen identification is an important tool in order to follow treatments and the animals through any required withdrawal periods. PQA Plus helps develop a permanent system that all farm personnel can use easily. 

GPP #5: Maintain medication and treatment records. Residue violations are rare, but if one should occur the consequences could include a country stopping U.S. pork imports. Losing consumer confidence could be a long-term consequence. PQA Plus offers sample treatment and medicated feed-mixing records. They can help you analyze medication use and identify alternate management interventions to reduce medication needs. 

GPP #6: Properly store, label and account for all drug products and medicated feeds. The effectiveness of animal-health products and medicated feeds depend on proper use and storage.  Making a mistake could result in an adulterated pork product, compromising food safety. PQA Plus provides guidance on storing, labeling and accounting for all drug products and medicated feeds used. 

GPP #7: Educate all animal caretakers on proper medicine administration, needle use and withdrawal times. Anyone caring for animals needs to be trained on how to properly administer animal-health products. PQA Plus helps develop training so that caretakers understand maximum residue-limit requirements, properly use needles and other medication delivery methods, know how to calculate withdrawal times and methods to avoid marketing products with violative residues.

GPP #8: Follow appropriate on-farm feed and commercial feed-processor procedures. Feeding an adulterated feed may result in an adulterated end product. PQA Plus helps implement good manufacturing practices to assure results that promote food safety during on-farm feed mixing or medicated-feed processing.

GPP #9: Develop, implement and document an animal-caretaker training program. Training helps make employees more productive and feel that they're a part of a team. PQA Plus documents training to help managers, advisers and auditors ensure that all employees are trained to do their work properly.

GPP #10: Provide proper swine care to improve well-being. As consumers are farther removed from agriculture, their food choices also have become more selective. To answer that call, and in the interest of “doing the right thing,” producers can use PQA Plus to assure customers that they are accountable for the care that they provide their animals.

PQA Plus site assessment
PQA Plus encourages producers to have an animal well-being assessment performed on the farm. It can be done by a trained PQA Plus advisor or producers can receive training to perform it themselves. It is designed to review production facilities and records, and to observe animals to initiate on-site discussions. Program materials guide the assessor through calculations to determine the herds' body condition, facility and equipment conditions, recordkeeping procedures and so forth.  The producer can use the assessment as a benchmarking tool to measure a farm’s animal well-being progress.  

Today's customers and their requirements are changing, and social responsibility is more than a business buzz word. Continuous improvement, including updating programs such as PQA, will allow U.S. pork to remain competitive not only against other proteins, but as a worldwide brand.

For more program information, call (800) 456-PORK or go to www.pork.org.