Sustainable Solutions for An Evolving Pork Industry
“With less than two percent of the population feeding 100 percent of the population, it’s not surprising consumers are questioning how their food is raised,” said Dallas Hockman, Vice President, Industry Relations at the National Pork Producers Council. “What we do know is the vast majority want a plethora of food choices that are economical, readily available and safe.”
However, based on a US Bureau of Labor Statistics report, Hockman said there is one segment solely focused on sustainable practices. The top 20 percent of households (by income) spend more on food today than the bottom 20 percent of our population earns in total.
Challenge: Fighting Disease Antibiotic-Free
There"s no question - the use of antibiotics is a universal concern because it resonates with us as human beings. NPPC’s position is that proper and responsible use of antibiotics prevents animal disease and helps keep food safe.
“This is not about trying to reduce antibiotic use but reducing the need to have to use antibiotics,” he said. “There are times when we need to use antibiotics to treat animals from an animal welfare perspective, but we leave that decision up to our veterinarians, and we support the Veterinary Feed Directive to offer oversight.”
From a consumer standpoint, most of the antibiotic-free efforts are seen in labeling at supermarkets or through a food influencer like a TV host or a social media blogger. Hockman says the key to countering these efforts is for the industry to do a better job explaining that antibiotics are used judiciously by producers.
Challenge: Animal Welfare
One animal welfare topic brought forth by consumer groups is whether sows are housed in stalls or in open pens as a group. NPPC’s position is that there is no perfect system in which to raise animals; both are viable options and it is the producer’s choice based upon their management plan.
“We have a number of producers who have chosen to move to group housing, and it"s working very well, but regardless of the system, animal husbandry should be applied, ensuring the sow has adequate feed, water and nutrition,” said Hockman.
Animal welfare is also a key element within our packer and processing segment as regulations become more stringent. Training through Pork Quality Assurance teaches on-farm personnel how animals should be handled and moved. Swine industry audits also give confidence to customers that best practices are being followed.
From the consumer standpoint, activist groups have done a much better job telling the public that pork producers don"t care about their animals than the industry has presented to combat those claims.The industry must be more proactive in communicating their message to the consumer.
Challenge: Meat Quality
Pork is the most consumed product on an eating occasion basis. The key pork meat quality issue today is related to packaging and variation in color. Consumers want to see a very consistent product and then have a very pleasurable eating experience.
Pork has a very diversified product line of meat cuts - sausage, ham, deli meat, BBQ, etc. The ultimate challenge of meat quality is improving the consistency of loin due to stratification. Some marketplaces, like Japan and food service consumers, are very specific in what they will accept, so it’s a continual challenge to meet these specific demands.
Addressing Today’s Challenges
NPPC is leading the effort to tell the story that pork producers abide by best management practices, and not just on the consumer front, but to key customers and elected officials. NPPC is engaged jointly with the National Pork Board to develop a Sustainability Report which helps define and quantify the industry’s sustainable practices.
Relationships between NPPC and allied industry partners like Novus are critical in addressing consumer challenges like antibiotics.
“We rely on industry partners across the entire value chain to provide insights and bring different perspectives to all the industry challenges we are facing,” Hockman noted.
Project Horizon – Helping Industry Meet Consumer Demands
In 2016, Novus launched Project Horizon, an initiative committed to help producers navigate the transition to reduced and antibiotic-free production. Project Horizon is a customer-focused effort to work in partnership with a producer’s on-farm team to manage health through nutrition to reduce the need for antibiotics as much as possible through nutritional influences on performance, health and uniformity, says Brad Lawrence, Novus Technical Services Manager Pork Business Team, North America.
The Project Horizon approach focuses on two main areas:
- Reducing pathogen exposure - Without antibiotics, harmful bacteria can overrun the GI tract where they destroy gut barrier function and nutrient absorptive capacity. The Project Horizon suite of products like CIBENZA® DP100 protease or ACTIVATE® line of organic acids help support digestive health and balance and restore a positive gut microflora balance, protecting against the risk of pathogenic bacteria causing diarrhea, morbidity and mortality.
- Improving natural defenses - Animals have natural defenses that kick into action to provide immunity or handle oxidative stress. Through nutrition, it is possible to boost these natural defenses.The MINTREX® chelated trace mineral line helps boost immunity and along with the antioxidant SANTOQUIN® feed preservative which aids the animal’s ability to manage oxidative stress and repair the resulting cellular damage.
Animal Welfare Solutions
When reducing the reliance on antibiotics, it’s important to recognize and plan for the impact the decision will have on animal welfare. There are often pigs that aren’t clinically sick at the time you were using antibiotics, but they may have had a subclinical challenge. It doesn"t take much to start seeing lost performance, higher feed conversion, fall-behind performance or dehydration.
The Novus portfolio helps address many of these issues improving overall animal welfare. For sows, MINTREX chelated trace minerals are targeted to assist with locomotion issues to improve longevity. The industry must now euthanize sows unable to walk off the truck. As a result, there is a renewed industry interest in sow locomotion. Stronger sows also generally handle moves, transport and other stressors better.
Meat Quality Solutions
SANTOQUIN and MINTREX chelated trace minerals from Novus helps manage oxidative stress which improves shelf life. Novus nutrition solutions also help reduce the amount of fat oxidation at the cellular level, so the pork product retains more water post-harvest. Improving oxidative status also reduces concern about fat and protein oxidation when pork is cooked.
Developing Integrated, Sustainable Solutions
Project Horizon from NOVUS is an example of industry helping industry find solutions to meet consumer demands. Collaboration is key to Project Horizon success, but success in meeting production challenges doesn’t happen overnight. Success takes partnership over many months.
Project Horizon doesn’t follow a template, so each customer who chooses to utilize the program will have a completely different set of challenges than another producer, and therefore a completely different set of solutions - it’s part of the magic and the challenge of Project Horizon. It’s a deep, relationship-building process, but everyone agrees - the sustainable solutions are helping to optimize performance and improve animal health, animal welfare and profitability.