Top issues at Pork Expo

An estimated 20,000 people from 38 countries, including pork producers, exhibitors and industry officials, attended the 2012 World Pork Expo June 6-8 at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

Gestation crates and the push by animal rights groups to force hog farmers to quit using them was a hot topic. Several supermarket and restaurant chains have announced they plan to stop buying pork from farms that use sow gestation crates or stalls to house pregnant sows.

Producers are angry over not being consulted by the big food chains before the announcements. Producers predict higher costs to produce hogs and higher pork prices for consumers if producers have to quit using stalls and instead use pens for gestating sows.

Among other key topics discussed at the expo was the growth of the U.S. pork industry in recent years, particularly exports. Exports of U.S. pork set a record in 2011 with $6.1 billion worth shipped to foreign buyers. That was 27% of U.S. pork production, according to R.C. Hunt, president of the National Pork Producers Council. Iowa was a big contributor, exporting $1.4 billion in pork to 39 countries.

Key Points

Record exports of U.S. pork in 2011 were a key topic at the recent World Pork Expo.

Greater markets exist in Russia, Canada and Vietnam if restrictions are lifted.

PRRS remains a problem, but can be minimized with biosecurity precautions.

The record exports were largely due to the amount of pork imported by China. “China is the country with the largest consumption of pork,” says Laurie Hueneke, NPPC’s director of international trade policy. “China consumes 50 million metric tons of pork annually.”

However, pork exports are down this year due to China’s ban on ractopamine (a feed additive to promote pig growth), higher taxes on imports, subsidies for its own producers and China producing more of its own pork.

Because of this, and obstacles in exporting to other countries, Hunt says exports of U.S. pork probably won’t be as strong in 2012. “2011 was a highly successful year for U.S. pork exports,” he says, adding that 2012 still looks promising. “We’re optimistic about 2012, but it’s not looking like another record year.”

Potential export markets

Another country with potential to buy more U.S. pork is Russia. Since 2008, exports to Russia have dropped about 60%. This is partly due to Russia’s freezing requirements to prevent trichinae in pork products. Russia requires imported pork to be frozen.

Paul Sundberg, vice president of science and technology for the National Pork Board, says adding the freezing process decreases the quality of the pork. However, he points out that according to a USDA study, the risk of a trichinae case occurring from U.S. pork is about 1 out of 285 million. “That’s nothing,” Sundberg adds. “That’s hardly even there.”

Although Russia will soon likely become part of the World Trade Organization and is a potentially bigger market for U.S. pork, this freezing requirement, as well as a ban on tetracycline residues and a potential ban on ractopamine, have resulted in Russia becoming a high-risk market, Hunt and Hueneke say.

The United States has also been negotiating with several countries as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and although Canada has expressed interest in joining the TPP, NPPC is concerned with Canada’s history of subsidizing its producers. The country with the most potential to buy U.S. pork in the TPP is Vietnam, providing the removal of certain restrictions, like the ones on particular varieties of meats.

“U.S. pork exports to Vietnam could reach $600 million,” says Hunt.

Biosecurity and PRRS

Another topic of discussion among NPPC leaders is biosecurity, particularly relating to porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome. Although PRRS has been around since the late 1980s, it continues to be a swine health problem today.

It is because of the virus’s ability to mutate unpredictably, combined with the cold, wet weather Iowa experienced last winter, that swine veterinarian Darin Madson of the Iowa State University Diagnostics Lab says the virus was a problem this year. “It was a perfect environment,” says Madson. “The virus was in its heyday.”

In some areas with heavy concentrations of pork producers, like Washington County in southeast Iowa, state ag officials have noticed an increase in measures being taken by producers to improve biosecurity, including air filtration systems. However, this may not always be the best measure to take due to the cost of these systems, says Pipestone veterinarian Bryan Myers. They cost $250 to $300 per sow to install, and $100 per weaned pig to maintain.

“It’s not cheap,” he notes, adding that the system has benefitted the farms that have installed it; some that had five outbreaks in 28 months had none the 28 months after filtering. “We do have some success stories there.”

Maintenance, as well as working with the filtration systems, can also be tedious, he says. “You literally have to stand in an entryway while we exchange all that air and it goes outside,” he says, explaining the process for entering a filtration-equipped facility. “Kind of like if you were entering a submarine.”

However, before deciding to install one of these systems, ISU Extension swine veterinary professor Jim McKean advises that producers take all necessary biosecurity precautions. “Do the other things first,” he says. “Then look at the costs and the likelihood that you need to filter.”

Need to take precautions

These precautions include making sure transportation and drivers are clean before entering a facility, limiting human contact with the animals, and always changing clothing and washing before moving between rooms. “If you do that, then humans don’t become a problem,” McKean cautions, noting that it is important to enforce this at the barn level. “You may have to fire some people in order to enforce it.”

PRRS can also be transferred through pig-to-pig contact, McKean says, noting that fluids like saliva, manure and semen are big contributors. “We can infect more sows by an infected boar stud than by any other route,” he says.

The problem can become even worse when two or more respiratory illnesses are combined, says John Waddell, professional services veterinarian at Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc. This includes any combination of PRRS, Swine Influenza Virus and Mycoplasma hyopneumonia. “Any two of them together, it’s a lot worse,” he says, adding that PRRS alone has cost the U.S. swine industry an estimated total of $664 million annually.

Harris is a Wallaces Farmer intern.

Study shows pork sustainability

Another topic discussed at the 2012 World Pork Expo is the improvements in sustainability the pork industry has seen since the 1950s.

Conley Nelson, an Iowa producer and president of the National Pork Board, says this is the result of a commitment to improve production efficiency and to lessen the environmental impact. “We’ve seen tremendous improvements in our water and land use over the last 50 years,” he notes.

A pork checkoff-funded study shows a 35% decrease in carbon footprint, a 41% reduction in water use and a 78% reduction in land used to produce a pound of pork. The study led by Garth Boyd, environmental researcher for the National Pork Board and a former university professor, included a team of university and industry scientists who looked at how the industry’s gains in production efficiency have affected pork’s environmental impact. The study looked at everything affecting pork’s footprint at the farm level — feed, water, energy, land and crop resources needed to produce pork.

Efficiency gains can be attributed mostly to improvements farmers have made over the last half century in crop production and in how they care for their animals through better nutrition, health and management. “The pork industry has been very successful in significantly reducing its environmental impact and use of natural resources by nearly 50% across the board per 1,000 pounds of pork produced, which is quite an accomplishment,” says Boyd.

This study shows how farmers today can produce more pork with fewer resources than ever before, he adds. Totaling all efficiency gains, it shows the continued progress toward greater sustainability. Today’s farms can produce 1,000 pounds of pork with only five pigs from breeding to market versus eight pigs in 1959.

This article published in the July, 2012 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.