Process Verification Program Answers Independents' Call

A 15-point checklist serves as the manual for assuring that pork producers meet all quality and food safety guidelines required for Farmland's America's Best Pork program. Larry Ritter, DVM, makes no bones about it when he went to work for Farmland Industries five years ago, his only goal was to help mold a program for survival of the cooperative's independent pork producer members. As quality assurance

A 15-point checklist serves as the manual for assuring that pork producers meet all quality and food safety guidelines required for Farmland's America's Best Pork program.

Larry Ritter, DVM, makes no bones about it — when he went to work for Farmland Industries five years ago, his only goal was to help mold a program for survival of the cooperative's independent pork producer members.

As quality assurance manager for America's Best Pork (ABP), he believes the Process Verification Production (PVP) program has the teeth and the tools to pay dividends for producers and branded product sales alike.

First USDA Approval

Farmland's ABP program received USDA approval for process verification in May 2000. It is the first group comprised of independent pork producers/cooperative packer to achieve that distinction. (The first PVP approval went to vertically integrated Premium Standard Farms, Princeton, MO.)

The PVP program is designed to encompass pork quality and food safety features that will provide a consistent, uniform product to consumers.

“Typically in the past, production systems have tried to guess what the consumer wants, and sometimes they guess wrong,” states Ritter. “For these systems to be truly successful, they have to be ‘pull through’ by the food companies.”

To participate, Farmland members must subscribe to a total package within ABP, including Triumph genetics, the PVP program and a Farmland hog marketing agreement. The key ingredients to success of PVP pork are its total segregation and 100% traceability. Hogs are certified before they leave the farm and assigned a corresponding lot number at the plant which is retained throughout slaughter and processing.

Ritter makes it clear PVP is a “systems-specific program.” The main restriction is no outdoor production.

Beyond that, producers can implement different production systems, as long as they follow the basic protocols, adds Terry Moeller, PVP specialist operating from Farmland's Monmouth, IL, packing plant office.

Fifteen Points:

  1. All producers must phase in use of Triumph Genetics, an offshoot of PIC stock created at Triumph's nucleus farm in Spring Green, WI. This includes an annual sow herd replacement rate of 35%, while 50% of the boars used for AI are replaced each year. A boar-to-female ratio of at least 1:150 must be maintained. Natural service and intact teaser boars are allowed. Farm-raised teaser boars can only be used if vasectomized.

    Single-sire mating is practiced so that pig data captured in the packing plant can be fed back into the genetic selection index for the nucleus herd. Triumph geneticists and meat scientists take 25 meat quality measurements in the plant and immediately apply that data back into the selection index.

  2. Nutritional specifications include no use of meat and bone meal or by-products containing meat and bone meal.

  3. Feed manufacturing quality control. The aim here is to audit on-farm or commercial mills to make sure they are meeting the Food and Drug Administration's Good Manufacturing Practices. That mainly involves batching, sequencing, flushing and sample retention procedures.

    “Periodically, we take one of those samples and test it in the lab at the plant to make sure they are meeting the nutritional specifications,” explains Ritter. “It's all part of creating a uniform product.”

  4. Use only USDA-approved biologicals or autogenous vaccines from an approved federal lab.

  5. Ensure federal veterinary drug use guidelines are followed. “It is possible to use compounded drugs or antibiotics that are designated for human use only, but not in our system,” says Ritter. Compounded drugs are not used because questions are raised about the correct withdrawal time when two drugs are mixed together. “It is very easy for us to say we are just not going to do it,” he adds.

    The same goes for use of human drugs in veterinary medicine, he notes. Antibiotic resistance stemming from such use has never been clearly proven, but allegations and perceptions persist.

    Farmland PVP auditors check drug use closely. Mike Daggett, grow/finish fieldman and auditor, looks through treatment records and drugs in stock to make sure they are all in compliance. “We supply the drugs for the farms and so we have control over what antibiotics are used on these farms in coordination with the local veterinarians,” says Daggett. Previous records of purchases from animal health suppliers are also checked.

  6. Exclude tetracycline from feed or water 15 days prior to market.

  7. Exclude sulfa drugs from feed or water 100 days before market.

  8. Stop all drug injections 30 days before market. “This is not a withdrawal issue. It's a needle and injection site issue,” says Moeller. Pigs that must be treated during that time get a green tag and are diverted from the PVP pigs.

  9. Practice proper on-farm animal handling. Walk pens at least three times a week. For producer Dan Reeder, Little York, IL, that rule doesn't seem at all excessive. “We have always had a practice here that every day you walk every pen, bump the waterers, look at the feed troughs and look the pigs over,” he states.

    Sprinkle or mist hogs based on the posted Livestock Weather Safety Index at load-out. Use of electric prods is restricted to the lowest amperage units and for loading only.

  10. Properly manage animal transportation, sprinkling hogs before loading. Use side panels and bedding for warmth. Haulers should clean and re-bed trucks between animal shipments.

  11. Follow Pork Quality Assurance Level III recordkeeping of drug treatment records.

  12. Practice on-farm food safety. Dead animals are to be removed from buildings within 24 hours to prevent cannibalism and passage of disease, explains Ritter.

    Building perimeter rodent bait stations are placed 50 ft. apart, within 3 ft. of buildings; 90% must always have bait.

    If a needle is known to have broken off in a hog while giving an injection, that animal is red-tagged and not slaughtered for human consumption, explains Monmouth, IL, plant coordinator Milt Spencer. “We can't take the risk of a broken needle being in that meat. We want producers to be up front with us and not try to slip it through us. That's why we tell them we are going to pay them for those hogs anyway,” he says.

    This month, all of Farmland's contract hog producers will be switching over to use of a new Canadian needle that is reported to be nearly 100% detectable at the packing plant.

  13. Follow plant pre-harvest handling procedures. Don't use canvas slappers. Use only the lowest amperage electric prods. Rest hogs one hour prior to slaughter. Sprinkle hogs in holding pens and provide access to water. Stun hogs properly.

  14. Adhere to environmental rules, including all state and federal guidelines for dead animal disposal.

    Enroll and practice guidelines of the On-Farm Odor/Environmental Assurance Program of the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC).

  15. Ensure product segregation from production to plant. “This item is the key to the whole program really,” emphasizes Ritter. “We can do all these things, but if hogs just come in and get blended with commodity pork, we have really lost the value.” Segregation can take the form of being penned separately on the truck, ear tagged, spray-marked differently or some other means of identification as PVP pork.

    Accurate segregation allows product to be labeled as process verified and provides market-driven assurances for consumers.

Program Rules, Goals

Ritter stresses violation of any one of the 15 program points is grounds for removal from the PVP program.

Originally, there were several large systems totaling 150,000 sows in the Farmland program. Since that time, independent producers representing 90,000 sows have signed up. The goal is to have 300,000 sows under the program's umbrella in about three years. That would give Farmland 6 million pigs/year, comprising about 75% of the cooperative's estimated kill.

Carthage Veterinary Service, Carthage, IL, swine consultant James Lowe, DVM, offers a prediction. In the next three to five years, 100% of the marketing agreements will have process verification as components. It's just a matter of doing it now or later, he says.

Find out more on Farmland's Web site,

Producers Join Farmland

For Dan Reeder, the biggest concern about joining Farmland's America's Best Pork (ABP) program last July was not whether he could follow the process verification program rules. It was whether using the new genetics would breach health biosecurity of his 675-sow, farrow-to-finish herd near Little York, IL.

“I am pretty picky,” says Reeder. “That was the big hitch I had going into the program — risking bringing in stock from another herd. I have always kept a closed herd, adding to it by buying semen or C-section pigs.”

Reeder started out as an SPF producer and for the last several years has maintained an F1 York-Landrace closed sow herd. Boar semen was collected on farm for artificial insemination.

His motivation for signing onto the Farmland program was to secure a future in the industry. He also bought shares in Elm Creek, a PIC daughter nucleus herd, Camp Point, IL, wholly owned by 23 producer members and supervised by Carthage Veterinary Service Ltd., Carthage, IL.

Triumph is the genetic supplier for Reeder, allowing him to assess breeding stock that utilizes a specific selection index that Triumph developed in cooperation with PIC, explains Carthage swine consultant James Lowe, DVM.

Health protection is enhanced for Reeder by bringing in the new stock at 14 to 18 days of age, explains Lowe. Pigs are placed in an isolation nursery for six to eight weeks and bled toward the end of isolation, basically to check for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS). The Elm Creek facility completed a successful PRRS elimination program recently.

Producer Audits

Producers joining the Farmland PVP program go through an initial audit, then periodic audits about every six months, says Reeder. Most of the audit items Farmland wants tightened up are just common sense, he notes.

The key change for Reeder has been increased documentation. All of his feed is ground and mixed on the farm. “We document this in a notebook, recording data on each batch of feed we manufacture, including any antibiotic we add and the lot number on that product. We never did that before,” he says.

Reeder hangs a clipboard in each room to keep track of inventories, mortalities and ration changes, but he is not used to keeping close track of drug treatments. “I think this program is a big step above Pork Quality Assurance Level III, primarily because what we do is verified.”

Terry Mann, Castana, IA, a Farmland contract finisher, also signed up for the PVP program. Documentation shows his herd health has improved even though he has reduced antibiotic use at the urging of Farmland auditor Mike Daggett of LeMars, IA.

“They become better managers because we really force them to do recordkeeping,” says Farmland's Larry Ritter, DVM.

Auditor Daggett says Mann still needs to tweak a few spots in his four finishing barns, but overall not much needs to be changed. But he says for other producers there have been two major areas of change — putting out bait stations for rodents, making sure there is bait in them and maintaining records on drug inventories.

Producer Advantages

Reeder signed onto the Farmland program to secure shackle space and hog pricing.

In the marketing program, price is based on a formula that takes into account the average value of 11 primal cuts. That tracks more closely to retail price/value. “I want to be paid what my hogs are worth, and I think the primals are the best way to do that,” he says.

Randy Weed, Charter Oak, IA, is a 200-sow, farrow-to-finish producer who signed on because he can be a contract producer and still own all his own pigs. He believes the primal pricing formula secures him a premium.

The program is a perfect marriage in that it provides profitability simultaneously for independent producers and packer, says Carl Smit, Farmland plant auditor at Denison, IA.

Industry-Safe Needle Introduced

The first virtually 100% detectable needle, designed specifically for use in livestock, will be available in June through Schering-Plough Animal Health.

In an announcement at the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) annual meeting in Nashville, TN, Schering-Plough said it has reached an agreement with a Canadian firm to market a new line of hypodermic needles.

Needles are designed and manufactured exclusively for livestock by Process Detectable Needles Inc., Winnipeg, Canada. The PDN needles are nearly 100% detectable because they are made of a unique stainless steel alloy proven to be highly detectable by scanners used by meat processors.

The needles are comprised of two parts. First is a hollow, metallic shaft (the cannula) through which the material is injected into the animal. The second part is the hub that attaches the cannula to the syringe.

The needles look and act like standard needles used in livestock production. The big differences are the needle's proprietary alloy and the polypropylene hub, which is reinforced to be stronger than standard plastic hubs.

Metal detectors in meat plants must be calibrated for different cuts of meat, explains Harry Snelson, technical services veterinarian for Schering-Plough. Even when the detectors are properly adjusted, they do not readily detect certain metal alloys, including some stainless steel models used today.

“The average detectability rate of standard needles is around 10%, according to tests conducted by the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), as well as independent trials in Canada,” reports Grant Humphrey, product inventor and president of PDN.

The design of the Canadian needle guards against re-use of bent needles. Like needles with aluminum hubs, PDN needles bend at the junction of the hub and the needle. “The main difference is that if users try to straighten a bent needle — a practice that can encourage breakage — they will break the epoxy bond, and the needle will not be usable,” says Humphrey.

If the PDN needle does break, it tends to retain a piece of the hub, making it easier to locate and retrieve, says Snelson. Functionally, there appears to be no difference in the PDN cannula vs. current needles.

PDN needle design impressed Iowa State University (ISU) agricultural engineer Steve Hoff.

“The needle/hub design assembly does an excellent job transferring a lateral load caused by animal movement from the needle/hub joint to the hub material itself, without causing the hub to completely sever from the entire assembly,” he says. “In this way, the hub and needle stay intact during severe, unrestrained animal movement, but enough damage is done that re-use is not an option,” says Hoff.

Producers who restrained animals prior to needle injection greatly reduced needle failures compared to producers who injected animals on the run, according to field trials.

Shipments of the PDN needles will begin in June. There are six sizes, from 14 to 20 gauge. Pricing has not been set. In Canada, the cost has been the U.S. equivalent of 4¢/hog, based on 10 uses/needle.

“Process detectable needles are more expensive to produce due to the additional cost of the raw materials,” says Keith Watts, director of Schering-Plough's Pork Industry Team. “The added costs, however, are far outweighed by the potential benefits to the pork industry,” he says.

For more information on Schering-Plough, phone (800) 231-3573 or visit