Pork audit programs offer confidence
Emily Erickson is no stranger when it comes to the common swine-industry auditing process and the Pork Quality Assurance Plus program. Erickson is the animal well-being and quality-assurance manager for New Fashion Pork based in Jackson, Minnesota. The company owns 60,000 sows and markets 1.2 to 1.3 million pigs a year from six states. She helps conduct internal audits at the company’s grow-finish sites.
“We try to get to all our sites once a quarter,” Erickson said. “We also serve as (Pork Quality Assurance) Plus advisors and work to get employees certified.”
New Fashion Pork markets pigs to three different plants; Erickson said each wants something a little different when it comes to audits.
“One might want a certain percentage of pigs audited, or they might base it on overall sales,” she said. “These audits are driven by the packers.”
Erickson served on the national task force that developed the common swine-industry audit, released in October 2014. The program allows audits to be consistent across the pork industry, with the goal of assuring customers that hogs are being raised and processed humanely.
She said one of the biggest challenges is the paperwork required for Pork Quality Assurance Plus and industry audits. Larger operations may have someone who is strictly responsible for the information, while smaller producers may do it themselves.
“We have to be consistent with our operations, and the paperwork is definitely one of the tougher parts of the audit,” Erickson said.
Pork Quality Assurance Plus requires an outside auditor to look at operations, and that keeps Anne Adkins busy. She is the director of swine animal-welfare auditing and training for Farm Animal Care Training and Auditing; she is based in Creston, Illinois. She conducted more than 300 audits around the United States this past year.
“These audits are mostly at the request of packers,” she said. “Some producers will ask us for an audit, but most of the time it’s the packers who contact us.”
Adkins says, for the most part, packers will randomly select operations they would like to see audited.
“They just want a certain percentage of the supply chain,” she said.
Operations are given some notice of an upcoming audit, primarily for biosecurity reasons, Adkins said. She said pork producers have a duty to assure their customers that pigs are treated well.
“There is some leeway when we schedule an audit, but this is what you should be doing every day,” Adkins said. “We hope that they are ready when we first contact them.”
She said an audit of a sow facility will take about four hours, while other buildings take a little more than two hours.
“If you have everything prepared, it will make it much faster,” Adkins said.
If problems are found at a site, the packer will give the producer time to make changes.
“We will notify the packer, and they will give the producer a timeline to make corrections,” Adkins said. “If they want us to do another audit, we’ll do that.
“We want producers to just be in the habit of following the program. That’s what their customers want.”
Erickson said it’s important consumers are confident in how pigs are raised and in the quality of pork products. Pork Quality Assurance Plus and the common industry audit, she said, are tools to do just that.
“I know the highs and lows, and it’s important for the entire industry to do the right thing 100 percent of the time,” Erickson said.
“At the end of the day, these are our pigs, and they need to be managed appropriately. We’re going to do all we can to make sure they are.”