After more than a year of industry collaboration, the National Pork Board today shared plans for a new common industry audit platform for pork producers, packers and processors. The program will use the existing Pork Quality Assurance® Plus (PQA Plus®) program as its foundation and expand on it to serve as a common audit platform for the pork industry.
The overarching goal of the common audit process is to provide consumers greater assurance of the care taken by farmers and pork processors to improve animal care and food safety. The concept of a common audit was first introduced more than one year ago at the 2013 National Pork Industry Forum. The resolution emerging from that conference directed the National Pork Board to convene a coalition of packers and pork producers to explore a credible and affordable solution for assuring animal well-being.
"As an industry, we know that our consumers are demanding a higher level of integrity from the pork industry's quality assurance processes and procedures," said Chris Novak, chief executive officer of the National Pork Board. "We are encouraged by the broad support we have received from all our industry's partners to develop the framework for this process."
In 2011, the Pork Checkoff's Board of Directors met with European counterparts who complained about audit programs in their countries that were duplicative, costly and inefficient. Utilizing that experience, the common platform announced today seeks to create and standardize a common process that will:
· Meet individual company and customer needs,
· Focus on outcome-based criteria that measure animal welfare,
· Provide clarity to producers with regard to audit standards and expectations,
· Minimize duplication and prevent over-sampling and
· Ensure greater integrity of the audit process through consistent application.
The new common audit framework has several key components, including a new audit tool, requirements for auditor training and biosecurity and a platform that will allow audit results to be shared to prevent duplicative audits. The audit tool is currently being beta-tested on farms across the country. The Industry Audit Task Force will review the results of this test in early July before finalizing the audit.
"What's exciting about this common audit framework is that it has truly been the industry coming together to better serve the needs of farmers, customers and consumers," Novak said. "This is not a new Pork Checkoff program, but rather an initiative that will be led by producers and packers working together to enhance animal care. We're grateful to the packers who have been members of this task force for their leadership with this effort."
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The Industry Audit Task Force includes producers and veterinarians representing the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, as well as packer representatives from Cargill, Farmland/Smithfield, Hatfield, Hormel, JBS, Seaboard, Triumph and Tyson.
"As packers, we operate between our suppliers - the pork producers - and our customers - those who are selling pork to consumers," said Chris Hodges, chairman of the Packer Processer Industry Council and senior vice president of fresh pork at Smithfield-Farmland. "The eye of the public is on where their food comes from and how it is raised. Meeting the demands of our customers while still appreciating the challenges of our producers is tough. That's why this new common audit platform is needed now."
Hodges added that the National Pork Board cannot fully deploy the standards of the program without the direct involvement of packers and processors. Many packers have agreed to support the new common industry audit, which will mean that they will utilize the common audit standard when conducting third-party audits.
"This approach has never been more critical," said Emily Erickson, a member of the Industry Audit Task Force and a pig farmer from Jackson, Minn. "As pork producers, we know that we must do more to reassure consumers about our commitment to improving animal care. At the same time, we need a clear and consistent approach that can ensure that we're doing the right thing every day for our animals, our farmers and our customers. This new framework delivers on that promise."
Incoming National Pork Board President Dale Norton agreed. "As a pork producer, I am excited about this new, innovative direction," he said. "This common audit platform will set a clear vision that challenges the status quo and meets domestic and international consumer needs. It's the right tool at the right time to ensure that we provide high-quality pork from well-cared-for pigs."