U.S. Pork Industry Takes Steps to Safeguard Future Trade Opportunities

Meat and poultry exports were a mixed bag, while beef imports were on the rise. ( Jennifer Shike )

To safeguard future trade opportunities for U.S. pork, the National Pork Producers Council has secured funding with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to test 6.2 million samples of U.S. pork for trichinae over the next two years.

To move away from inefficient, costly and unreasonable trichinae mitigation efforts, the NPPC and the National Pork Board worked with APHIS to change standards within the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the Codex Alimentarius.

In July 2015, the CODEX adopted a new global standard to define negligible risk for the trichinae parasite in swine. To comply with new science-based standard, the U.S. pork industry must demonstrate through sampling that the risk within the U.S. herd is negligible. 

However, in order to comply, they need data, says Bobby Acord, former USDA APHIS Administrator. And to get the data, they need samples and support from the U.S. packing industry. 

“Packer participation in the surveillance program is key,” Acord says. “The producers have eliminated trichinae from the U.S. swine herd. Now we need packers to help us collect these samples so we can eliminate any trade restrictions based on unwarranted trichinae concerns.”

A Look Back
In recent years, the U.S. pork industry has taken it for granted that the risk of the trichinae in commercial U.S. hogs is negligible because of the extremely low incidence of human infection. 

“At one point, trichinae was a big issue – the way to mitigate the problem was to overcook pork, test every carcass at the packing plant or freeze the pork carcass for a period of time,” Acord says.

Moving pork production indoors and implementing the PQA Plus program basically eliminated trichinae in modern pork production, he says.

“Today you rarely see any trichinosis cases in the U.S.,” Acord says. “If you do, it often comes from bear meat, wild boar meat or backyard pigs (which is rare). The source has been eliminated and it’s basically not an issue.”

Still, the U.S. pork industry needs to prove that risk is negligible – not because of U.S consumption concerns, but for purposes of trade. Without data from a sampling program, the U.S. could be vulnerable to a challenge at the World Trade Organization, which could jeopardize all chilled pork shipments.

“The surveillance project will allow us to prove that we don’t have a trichinae problem,” Acord says. “Many of the countries we trade with have a problem with trichinosis. They want more than our word when they trade with us.”

A Low-Cost Opportunity 
The combination of change in international standards and funding by APHIS for sample testing has created a rare, one-time opportunity to address the trichinae issue at the least cost to the industry. 

USDA engaged the Agricultural Research Service to conduct the testing, train personnel to assure quality in performance of the testing, maintain and report on testing results and provide packers with appropriate shipping materials for shipping samples. APHIS will pay for the testing and shipment of samples. The only cost to U.S. packers is the labor to collect the samples.

“All the packer has to do is collect a thumb-sized piece of tissue and ship it to us for data collection,” Acord says. “We’ve had a little pushback about the cost of time collecting samples. But the reality is that the benefits far outweigh the cost. Once we establish negligible risk, we can continue the process and not worry about some country pushing back or blocking importation of U.S. chilled pork because of trichinae.”

Testing a representative sample is a lot cheaper than testing every carcass, Acord adds. In the end, he believes this effort will help U.S. pork reach more, lucrative international markets.

Moving Forward
U.S. packers can sign up for the Trichinae Surveillance Program through NPPC or the National Pork Board. APHIS will cover all other costs for shipping materials, testing, etc. NPPC will continue to advocate for USDA funding of sample testing and support for the testing program. Along with the National Pork Board, NPPC will provide general program oversight and work with USDA and the testing facility to assure quality of testing process and address any issues during the testing phase. 

“The Trichinae Surveillance Program is one more block knocked off the precautionary wall that stifles innovation and puts significant upward pressure on global food prices,” Acord says. “The NPPC is committed to developing international markets for U.S. pork that are free from all tariff and non-tariff barriers and that accept modern, science-based production methods that meet international standards.”

Related Article:

Overcooking Pork Should be a Rare Occurrence