It's obvious consumers are becoming more interested in where their food comes from. At the 2014 World Pork Expo on Tuesday, the National Pork Board announced a new common industry audit program for pork producers, packers, and processors to help provide greater assurance of the care taken to improve animal care and food safety.
The program uses the existing Pork Quality Assurance Plus program as its foundation.
"If we look at the 25-year history of the PQA program, this is simply an evolution for us," says Chris Novak, chief executive officer of the National Pork Board. "It's not driven by activists. It's driven in part by discussions with customers, and by our commitment to do what's right."
The Industry Audit Task Force includes producers and veterinarians representing the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, and packer representatives from Cargill, Farmland-Smithfield, Hatfield, Hormel, JBS, Seaboard, Triumph, and Tyson.
"(PQA Plus) is a very successful program in establishing standards and benchmarks," says Chris Hodges, chairman of the Packer Processor Industry Council and senior vice president of fresh pork at Smithfield-Farmland. "There was one little gap – the ability to get 100% participation in the program." The audit program, a collaborative initiative between processors and producers, seeks to bridge this gap.
A common standard
In 2011, the Pork Checkoff's Board of Directors met with European producers, who had to adhere to multiple audit programs. More recently, certain packing companies, including Tyson and Hormel, announced their own audit programs here in the U.S., and producers were asking for an audit program with common standards and criteria.
So, avoiding this duplication is one of the common industry audit program's goals. "We realized we needed a set of core principals in animal welfare," Hodges says. "(Requirements) of audits, criteria, and general management practices will be much clearer."
The audit platform seeks to create a standardized process that will:
• Meet the needs of companies and customers.
• Focus on outcome based criteria that measure animal welfare.
• Provide clarity to producers with regard to audit standards and expectations.
• Minimize duplication and prevent over-sampling.
• Ensure greater integrity of the audit process through professional, consistent application.
The new program has several key components, including a new audit tool, requirements for biosecurity during audits, and a platform allowing audit results to be shared to prevent duplicative audits. Many packers are in support of using the common audit standard when conducting third-party audits.
The audit tool is currently being beta-tested across the country. The Industry Audit Task Force will review results of the test in early July before finalizing the audit.
The process will assess criteria in four areas: livestock, facilities, caretakers and training, and records and recordkeeping.
While there isn't a definitive score established where producers pass or fail, Novak says any acts of willful abuse or cases of severely injured animals will result in an automatic fail.
Otherwise, if the producer doesn't receive a perfect score for certain categories, there is room for continued improvement, Novak adds.
"The producer is given the opportunity to work with the packer to fix those issues on some type of improvement plan," he says. "By the next time your farm is audited, have you improved animal care?"