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At annual event—

By Staff | Mar 12, 2010

Katie Beeler, communications specialist for the U.S. pork Center for Excellence, housed on the Iowa State university campus, presented a talk about her 5-year-old organization.

Gregg Hora, president of the Webster County Pork Producers, and emcee for Monday’s annual meeting in Fort Dodge, recalled that a year ago, pork producers were seeing a swing to the positive side of markets “and we were feeling pretty good.

“But then April 24 happened.”

That’s the day the media broke the story of an H1N1 virus, calling it “swine flu,” with footage of pigs that gave consumers the impression that the virus was being transmitted from pigs to humans.

The markets dropped and countries closed their doors to U.S. pork including China and Russia, whose imports of U.S. pork dropped 35 and 36 percent, respectively, during 2009, Hora said.

But last week Russia announced it would reopen its borders for U.S. pork and things look to be on a positive swing upward again.

But in the midst of trying to survive in the marketplace, other pressures face the industry, including a growing disconnect among consumers on where their food comes from and how is it produced.

Hora told the room of 45 producers and agribusinesses that the new “We Care” program is focusing on establishing trust between the industry and its consumers.

“This initiative could serve as a road map for the industry over the next decade,” said R.C. Hunt, a pork producer from Wilson, N.C. and chairman of the 16-member advisory group. His comments are posted on the National Pork Board Web site. “What this really boils down to is building trust and we want to take that trust to producers.”

The We Care initiative, Hora said, begins with six guiding principles that were drafted by a group of producer leaders and ratified by delegates at the Pork Industry Forum in March 2009. In those principles, producers affirm their obligation to:

  • Produce safe food.
  • Safeguard natural resources in all industry practices.
  • Provide a work environment that is safe and consistent with the industry’s other ethical principles.
  • Contribute to a better quality of life in communities.
  • Protect and promote animal well-being.
  • Ensure practices to protect public health.

Dallas Hockman, vice president of industry relations for the National Pork Producers Council, said the pork industry “isn’t doing this just to respond to an event that gave the industry a black eye. More and more people just don’t understand where food comes from.” His comments appear on the National Pork Checkoff Web site.

The pork industry has numerous programs, including Pork Quality Assurance Plus and the Take Care Use Antibiotics Responsibly program, to maintain a safe, high-quality supply of pork.

The We Care effort ties everything together.

“We are viewing this as an umbrella for all programs within the National Pork Board and the National Pork Producers Council,” Hockman says. “These programs are the framework, and provide proof we are doing the right thing.”

The vision is simple. The advisory committee wants the public to view the industry as a self-regulated industry that earns the trust of others.

“We really want people to understand that producing food is still a noble cause,” Hockman says.

Organizations serve

The county’s producers heard from a pair of representatives of state and national organizations and how these groups are serving producers in general. They are Alison Swanson, director of marketing and programs for the Iowa Pork Producers Association; and Katie Beeler, communications specialist for the U.S. Pork Center of Excellence, housed on the Iowa State University campus.

Swanson, who organizes the pork tent at the Iowa State Fair, also works with restaurants to get pork “on the top of their menus.”

She announced a slate of promotional statewide grilling events during 2010 and solicited volunteers from the audience.

USPCE’s Beeler said she works with producers “so that the consumer can enjoy a consistent, quality product.” She said the organization is governed by a 15-member board and managed by a four-person staff.

Beeler said the USPCE was established for the purpose of bringing about a higher level of cooperation and collaboration among and between universities, the pork production industry, and government. By addressing the issues most important to producers today, the USPCE is achieving its mission of providing producers the resources they need to maintain a successful pork production operation.

“We want to be a model for all agriculture,” Beeler said.

She said the newest project is the development of a national swine nutrition guide, which is a practical publication containing nutrient recommendations and feeding guidelines. The guide consists of nutrition fact sheets and diet formulation and evaluation software.

It was written, Beeler said, as a collaboration between university swine nutritionists and swine industry specialists.

Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, Ext., 453, or by e-mail at kersh@farm-news.com.

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