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Ensuring safe pork and healthy pigs

Mark Whitney, left, Extension swine specialist, works with Doug Wenner, past Minnesota Pork Board president, to educate farmers about improving animal welfare and meat quality.

People shopping for meat are increasingly considering more than just price. They want assurance that the meat is free of contaminants and that the animal was treated well.

Extension swine specialist Mark Whitney says producers have always been conscientious of treating their pigs well. "After all, we're in this industry because we like working with animals." But Whitney has noticed increased demand that producers document that they raise pigs in a humane manner.

To help meet this need, Extension offers a certification program developed by the National Pork Board called Pork Quality Assurance Plus (PQA Plus), which addresses food safety and animal welfare. Research-based education such as this also helps foster a successful swine industry in Minnesota, an industry which supports 22,500 jobs and accounts for $7.6 billion in economic activity.

PQA Plus includes a certification course and a site assessment. The curriculum covers topics such as the responsible use of antibiotics.

"It gives producers and farm workers confidence and helps them demonstrate their professionalism," says Extension educator Diane DeWitte, who teaches PQA Plus in Blue Earth and Le Sueur counties.

Extension also teaches a complementary program called TQA (Transport Quality Assurance) for those involved in transporting pigs. It addresses the effects of animal handling, facility design and transportation on swine welfare and pork quality.

Treating pigs well is not just the right thing to do—it's also good for business. Pigs that experience stress produce lower quality meat; DeWitte says a stressful trip to the processing plant can reduce the value of a pig's meat.

Extension's swine team has certified more than 2,000 Minnesota producers in the past five years in PQA Plus and TQA. Producers must be re-certified every three years.

For more information and resources, visit Pork Production.

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