Pure Country Pork of Ephrata, Wash., is the first farm to earn certification from the non-profit organization Food Alliance under a new national standard for pork production. One of the more comprehensive agricultural eco-labels in North America, Food Alliance Certified goes beyond humane animal treatment by also addressing labor conditions and environmental protection.

“It’s really a new world for agriculture,” says Paul Klingeman, Pure Country's manager, explaining his decision to seek certification. “People want to know where their food is coming from and how it’s being produced – and every new story that breaks in the newspaper is pushing them towards foods that meet independent, third-party standards.”

He says the group is "deeply committed to the health and well-being of our animals." Hogs are raised in open hoop houses with free access to food, fresh water and clean bedding. "They live in small social groups in a stimulating environment where they can have stress-free interaction with each other," he says. "And, of course, they are never fed animal by-products or given antibiotics. Now we have Food Alliance behind us to assure our customers we really are doing this the best, most sustainable way possible.”

Pure Country Pork sells about 8,000 hogs a year to high-end grocery stores such as New Seasons Markets in Portland and PCC Markets in Seattle, as well as to Masami Foods, which sells to select customers in Japan and the United States. Some hogs are also sold directly to consumers.

Alan Hummel, meat and seafood director for New Seasons Markets, is excited to have the certified pork in stores. “The conundrum with sustainable has been in defining and measuring what it is or isn’t," Hummel notes. "We felt the need for some criteria for sustainable, so that our customers can trust the quality of the products they buy from us. Food Alliance has been really valuable in that regard. We already buy Food Alliance certified beef. We’re definitely encouraging our other meat suppliers to seek certification.”

Food Alliance introduced its new national pork standard in June. “We developed the original standard to serve some small-scale pork producers in the Midwest,” explains Scott Exo, Food Alliance's executive director. “As interest in the certification increased, the challenge for us was to write a standard that was appropriate for producers across the country, operating at all scales, while maintaining the same high expectations for animal welfare, labor conditions and environmental stewardship.”

Food Alliance pork standards prohibit the use of gestation and farrowing crates. Food Alliance does allow the use of large farrowing pens, as long as they are at least five-by-seven feet in area, which help protect piglets from being crushed but allow sows to stand, turn or lie down at will, says Exo.

He says, the Food Alliance certification goes beyond other animal-welfare certification programs by including additional criteria for manure management, soil and water conservation, pest management, wildlife habitat protection, and requirements for safe and fair working conditions. “That’s part of the attraction of this program for me,” says Klingeman. “There’s a lot more happening on a farm than just how the animals are treated.”

Food Alliance certification standards for farmers and ranchers include:

  • Safe and fair working conditions
  • Healthy and humane care for livestock 
  • No hormones or non-therapeutic antibiotics
  • No genetically modified crops or livestock
  • Reduction of pesticide use and toxicity
  • Conservation of soil and water resources
  • Protection of wildlife habitat
  • Planning for continuous improvement

Certification standards for food processors and distributors include:

  • Use of Food Alliance certified products
  • Safe and fair working conditions
  • Conservation of energy and water
  • Reduction and recycling of waste
  • Reduction of toxic and hazardous materials
  • No artificial colors, flavors or preservatives
  • Quality control and food safety
  • Planning for continuous improvement

The complete standards for both producers and handlers are available at www.foodalliance.org.

Source: Food Alliance