Trust is so important when it comes to consumers and their food choices. This is why the National Pork Board developed the PQA Plus (Pork Quality Assurance Plus) program. I, as a hog farmer, want my customers to know the principles we follow as we raise their food. There is nothing more important than to show what we do, explain why we do it and how we do it.
The PQA Plus program is given to farmers and their employees to teach them the principles of the We Care program and GPP (Good Production Practices). The PQA Plus certification is a continuous improvement program that outlines GPP in food safety and animal well-being. The class is given in a classroom environment where there is interaction between the participants and the educator. The advantage of this type of training is it easily allows questions to be asked by the participants.
In addition to the classroom portion of PQA Plus, there is also a site assessment piece, which we will complete in the very near future. The site assessment consists of a PQA Plus advisor coming to the farm and visually assessing animal well-being.
Our farm is required to be PQA Plus certified by our meat packer (the company that buys our hogs) – Hormel. Simply put, if we are not PQA Plus certified we cannot sell hogs to Hormel. Tyson is the other meat packer that requires its hog farmers to be certified. Prior to the PQA Plus certification requirement, we still participated in the program. As hog farmers, it is our ethical responsibility to do the best job we can and the PQA program helps us do that. The certification is required every three years.
Our class started by talking about the ethical principles of the WeCare program. They are:
- Produce safe food
- Protect and promote animal well-being
- Ensure practices to protect public health
- Safeguard natural resources in all of their practices
- Provide a wok environment that is safe
- Contribute to a better quality of life in their communities
After the WeCare portion, we completed the class by going over the GPP (Good Production Practices) which are:
- Establish and implement an efficient and effective herd health management plan
- Use an appropriate veterinarian as the basis for medication decision-making
- Use antibiotics responsibly
- Identify, track and maintain medication and treatment records for all treated animals
- Adhere to medication withdrawal times
- Properly store, label and account for all drug products
- Use proper administration techniques, needle-use procedures, and observance of withdrawal times
- Follow appropriate on-farm feed and commercial feed processor procedures
- Develop, implement, and document an animal caretaker training program
- Provide proper swine care to improve swine well-being
- The recommended practices are all based on research and science by people who work with the animals everyday.
- It showed specifically how to enhance biosecurity to keep animals healthy.
- It showed specifically how and when to use medications (hint: use the least amount possible, use them responsibly and only what the label directs).
- The importance of recording animal medication treatments.
Putting my consumer hat on I am reassured that pork is raised using sound, scientific standards by caring and concerned hog farmers. Nearly all the practices listed in the 142-page manual are directed towards the animal’s well-being.
This is just the first step hog farmers can do to earn consumers’ trust. The PQA Plus program lets the consumer know the type of training and education people working with hogs receive. We also know communication, dialogue and listening to the consumer is very important, which we are working diligently on.
Do you have any questions or comments about the PQA Plus program? Please follow my blog as I will continue this series with the Site Assessment as well as the TQA (Transport Quality Assurance) certification.