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NPB goal: Build confidence in pork

By Staff | Mar 13, 2009

Conley Nelson emphasis a point Monday during the 2009 Webster County Pork Producer’s annual meeting. The main speaker of the evening, Nelson, who lives in Algona, is a member of the National Pork Board.

The day has arrived that pork producers can no longer simply tell people that they care for the welfare of their pigs, but must prove their practices in order to restore consumers’ trust and confidence in the industry.

Conley Nelson, of Algona, urged a room full of Webster County pork producers Monday evening, in Fort Dodge, to submit to “site audits” that bring observers onto a farm and examine their animal welfare management practices and recommend any changes.

“I know this is difficult for pork producers to hear,” said Nelson, who is into his first year of a three-year appointment on the National Pork Board, “but we have to get our producers connected (with consumers.)”

He said it’s not enough to talk the talk of animal welfare, but to walk and demonstrate it as well.

During the previous weekend, Nelson was in Texas for the NPB’s annual convention where it approved a policy statement that pork producers submit to farm site assessments.

“It’s a big step,” Nelson told his Webster County contemporaries, “but it’s where the industry is heading.” Hormel, he added, has already dictated site assessments on its suppliers’ farms, or those suppliers cannot sell to Hormel.

“When the day is done,” Nelson told the crowd, “we have to prove that we are the kind of producers that we say we are.”

Nelson told Farm News later that producers would have to rethink a number of practices, such as methods for runt pig euthanasia and even castration.

As a result, a new animal welfare program have been unveiled, supported with checkoff dollars, called We Care. We Care ties together existing programs such as Pork Quality Assurance Plus and Transport Quality Assurance, to help the consuming public understand that the pork industry is a self-regulated business that earns their trust. He added that even those who audit farms will be audited themselves to assure they are doing their job properly.

“We don’t have the luxury anymore of just telling the story,” Nelson reiterated.

Noting the 2008 video of mistreated pigs in Greene County, and an upcoming HBO special that includes images of how a producer euthanized sows through strangulation, “It’s too easy for consumers to lump us all together,” Nelson said. “All of our producers will have to get onboard.”

He said there is an urgency for producers to get started, “If we don’t (self-regulate) we’re going to lose control of this.”

Contact Larry Kershner by e-mail at editor@farm-news.com.

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