Food Safety and Public Health: Consumer Mandates Define Pork Quality

( National Pork Board and the Pork Checkoff )

By Dr. David Newman, National Pork Board president and Missouri pig farmer

In my last article, I put on my meat scientist lab coat to share some key attributes of quality, critical components that translate into a positive-eating experience for our customers. 

Let me take off the lab coat, put on my pig farmer boots and invite you to walk with me for a bit. For the past decade, the U.S. pork industry has been defined by our ethical principles that center around people, pigs and the planet. Care of our animals and protection of the environment are two foundational principles. 

However, I believe that even more important are the ethical principles focused on people — and specifically, ensuring food safety and public health. These two items are table stakes in our mission to raise pigs to feed a hungry world. They also speak directly to how a pig farmer defines quality. 

Assure a safe, high-quality product
People are a fundamental part of the equation in raising pigs for pork. We must assure every consumer a safe, high-quality product. That is why pork producers established food safety and public health as two primary principles of the We Care promise.

We Care encourages farmers and employees to understand and consistently use best practices in raising animals. It’s a promise to the public that, as an industry, America’s pig farmers are committed to responsible and ethical animal agriculture. We understand trust is something that must be earned. 

The We Care promise defines our industry and allows us to build upon a culture of continuous improvement. Only by attaining this high standard can we grow consumer trust over the long term. To that end, we must engage the supply chain — from food production to retail and foodservice purveyors — and connect with consumers to promote our ethical and responsible production practices.

In brief, quality products are both safe to eat and raised or grown in a manner that assures public health. From time to time, you hear about product recalls — every industry has them. The pork industry, has many safeguards in place to confidently take our product to market. From following guidelines required by the Food and Drug Administration to knowing USDA inspectors are on-site examining our product before it goes to market, we have laws and regulations in place to assure we produce a safe product.

The importance of research and preparedness
In 2018, the U.S. pork industry funded 67 individual research projects to the tune of $6.7 million through the pork checkoff. That is an amazing reinvestment on behalf of our industry. But how many of those research projects centered on people through assuring quality, sustainability, food safety or public health? Twenty-nine research projects consuming 43% of the available dollars were earmarked for pork quality, pork safety, public health and sustainability initiatives. 

These projects deliver value through creating a positive return on investment for pig farmers. They build trust by fostering a closer relationship with government and non-government groups on topics such as antibiotic stewardship and to address concerns of foreign animal disease. As we walk down the path of building trust, we also engage in farm tours to let influencers inside our barns. Public health experts, registered dietitians, the media and social influencers all work together to help us share our story, a story of quality anchored by a unified commitment to food safety and public health.

I just mentioned the “F word” — foreign animal disease. Never has this been more critical to our future success. With the onset of African swine fever(ASF) in China just over a year ago, pork safety and quality has never been more important. 

ASF has fueled a lot of attention globally because it directly affects the supply of pork — the most-consumed protein in the world. When 40% of the world’s hogs disappear due to disease, this impacts the market. Current estimates can vary, but the number of pigs lost to ASF could be well over 100 million, or equivalent to nearly an entire year of U.S. pig production.

To be clear, ASF is not in the western hemisphere and we must stay vigilant to keep it that way. Important facts you should know and share with consumers are: 

•    ASF is a viral disease affecting only pigs and not people,  so it is not a threat to either public health or food-safety.

•    We do not have ASF here, and many allied organizations are diligently collaborating on a global basis to ensure we do everything within our power to prevent disease spread. 

I have the honor of serving for the next year as president of the National Pork Board. I want all people to know pork is safe, and real pork quality starts on the farm and ends with a great eating experience. I guarantee we will deliver on the goal to prove responsible production in an ongoing effort to increase consumer trust. It is my promise, and the 60,000 other pig farmers just like me, to underscore how food safety and public health serve as a foundation to quality. The entire pork chain is strong and made of passionate individuals ensuring the utmost concern for safe, high-quality U.S. pork.

More from Farm Journal's PORK:

Is U.S. Pork Safe to Eat?

It Takes All of Us

What’s the Big Deal About Pork Quality?