Saturday, August 28, 2010

PQA Plus Certification--We Care, We Really Do

Recently, our family went to a PQA Plus training meeting. Which means we are all PQA Plus certified. So, what is PQA Plus? Well, I'm glad you asked. PQA stands for Pork Quality Assurance, this program was first launched in 1989 to educate producers on best management practices. In order to integrate the advanced technologies, improved animal handling techniques, and provide produces with the most comprehensive, up-to-date food safety and animal care training the Pork Checkoff created PQA Plus in 2007. As of 2008, over 22,000 producers and 25,000 youth received PQA Plus certification.

What does all this mean for consumers? More than you think. Unfortunately, few consumers realize what this certification is or that it even exists. Let me tell you, if you eat pork this should matter to you. PQA Plus is a training program that sets the standard for pig care, treatment, handling, and health.

We were given the PQA Plus Certification Manuel which lists the 10 Good Production Practices (GPPs). I won't list all 10 here but I will highlight a few that many consumers are concerned about.

GPP #1: Establish and Implement an Efficient and Effective Herd Health Management Plan.

Herd health is of utmost importance and this section goes over some basics that should always be followed. They include:
  • Regular evaluation of herd health status by a veterinarian--This one is self explanatory. Take your pigs to the doctor or in our case, take the doctor to the pigs for well-piggy checkups. 
  • Biosecurity--This one tends to confuse some. Let me be the first to tell you that pork producers have nothing to hide; however, because we care about our pigs' health we cannot allow every Tom, Dick and Harriet to come in off the streets possibly bringing disease with them. You may not realize that these pigs are the healthiest you'll find but something so small as stepping in some dog poop on the way in could give an entire barn worms...or worse. This is a mild example of what could happen. Think of all the diseases wild animals carry and be thankful that your food will never be exposed to parvo or rabies.  
  • Rodent/pest control--Obviously we don't want rats in the feed or any other pest pestering our pigs. To keep our barns clean and disease free we must maintain effective pest control. 
  • Cleaning and disinfecting procedures--After each group goes out our barns get a thorough cleaning and disinfecting so every batch gets a fresh new barn. We add that "new barn" smell for our new arrivals.
GPP #2: Use an Appropriate Veterinarian/Client/Patient Relationship (VCPR) as the Basis for Medication Decision-making.
  • This goes right along with the first GPP. For the vet to understand your pigs and to maintain a good working relationship you must have him/her visit regularly. This is also a good one for consumers who think we "spray the pigs down daily with antibiotics." Obviously, a veterinarian isn't going to allow that (not to mention antibiotics do not come in spray form) and medication of any kind is regulated by a trained professional.
GPP #3: Use Antibiotics Responsibly.
  • Again, many people are confused about the level of antibiotic use in these types of operations. The purpose of antibiotics is "to protect the animal's health, optimize effectiveness, and minimize the risk of developing antibiotic resistance, thereby protecting public health." One of the key rules that this training emphasizes is that antibiotics are plan B. Always, always, always utilize other management options before you whip out the antibiotics.
GPP #10: Provide Proper Swine Care to Improve Swine Well-Being.
  • It is worth noting that while the other chapters range from 6-10 pages this section is a whopping 24 pages long. It begins on page 77 and concludes with a summery on page 101. Everything from record keeping to proper euthanasia and from proper handling to ventilation this section covers it all. There is also a section on "Willful Acts of Abuse" for all those YouTubers who can't get enough of these nasty, vile videos. This section, along with our contract company and field manager, makes it very, very clear that any and all willful acts of abuse will not be tolerated. The manual goes so far as to list specific acts that will not be tolerated such as: "Intentionally applying a prod to sensitive parts of the animal", "Malicious hitting", and "Purposeful failure to provide minimal food" to name a few. 
I know what the skeptics out there are saying, "Well, I'm glad your farm is doing the right thing but what about those big CAFOs and contract farmers? What about them?" Well, we are one of those "big CAFOs" and because we are contract hog farmers we are required to go to these meetings and implement these practices. The rules are set to maintain the highest quality and standards for not just high head count but healthy hogs too.

The "We Care" Initiative isn't just a gimmick. As pork producers we really do care; believe me, you couldn't deal with the seven days a week if you didn't love your job and care about what you are doing. If we didn't care, we'd all quit.

Pork producers care about their pigs and it is about time people started realizing that!

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