The U.S. pork industry’s “We Care” program is not yet 1-year old, but R.C. Hunt, a North Carolina pork producer, told National Pork Producers Council delegates at last week’s National Pork Industry Forum that it “will be a program that we remember for a long, long time.”

Hunt is a co-chair of the joint NPPC, National Pork Board advisory council that developed the program, which was introduced last year at World Pork Expo. The advisory council, representing a cross-section of the pork industry, was charged with creating the insight and direction for an image and social responsibility program for U.S. pork producers.

Within the “We Care” program are six ethical principles that focus producers on their responsibility and commitment to their animals, the environment, food safety and the consumer, their employees and the communities in which they live.

“The ethical principles promote confidence in what we do and how we do it,” said Hunt.
In 2008, the program work focused on informing the industry, gaining industry participants’ acceptance and preparing them for participation in the program. While it’s a producer-based program, Hormel Foods is requiring its suppliers to enroll in the program by 2010 in order to sell hogs to the packer.
“It (We Care) is a very comprehensive plan,” said Hunt.

He outlined the step-by-step approach for producer participants as follows:

  • Live and practice the designated ethical principles every day.
  • Attain Pork Quality Assurance Plus certification for owners, managers and hands-on production employees.
  • Register premises identification in compliance with the National Animal Identification System.
  • Complete a PQA Plus on-site assessment.

“The Trucker Quality Assurance certification is an important step in this process too,” he added.
In 2009, both NPPC and NPB will place a high priority on getting U.S. producers and their production staffs to participate in the “We Care” program, including an on-farm assessment. Both delegate bodies approved resolutions that require their delegates to participate and to encourage their memberships to enroll as well.

“This ‘We Care’ initiative has to be in our toolbox as we go to Capital Hill,” Todd Stickley, an Ohio producer, told his peers. “It won’t eliminate inappropriate behaviors or actors, but our message has to be that we care for our animals, environment, consumers, employees and communities.”

Todd See, North Carolina State University animal scientist, told the group that the program has to move from being an education program to a certification program, and that includes on-farm assessments. To get a perspective of what can be expected to participate, he advises producers check out the PQA Plus program details at www.pork.org or call NPB’s call center at (800) 456-PORK.