Iowa's hog industry generates $5 billion to $6 billion in sales each year and supports a number of pork processing plants around the state. Plus there is economic benefit from the wages and sales paid in the allied industries such as hog equipment manufacturing and seed stock genetics companies.
Gestation crate issue an on-going discussion among consumers and producers
Incoming IPPA president Greg Lear, who produces pork and runs a feed business at Spencer in northwest Iowa, spoke about some of the challenges the hog industry faces in 2013. The major issue pork producers face is gestation crates which are used by many hog producers. The crates house the sows that give birth to more than 35 million hogs annually in Iowa.
Producers say the individual crates are necessary to keep sows from fighting and biting each other, which is what occurs when sows are kept in pens. Animal rights advocates say the crates are cruel because sows can't turn around in them. Animal rights people have persuaded several grocery store chains and restaurant chains to announce plans to quit buying pork that is produced on farms where gestation crates are used. Several major corporate pork producers, such as Smithfield Farms, are already beginning to phase out the use of crates for gestating sows.
Public needs to know how the food they eat is raised, how hogs are produced
"We must teach the public how their food is raised," says Lear. "Fifty years ago every farmer in Iowa raised hogs and most people in the state were only a generation removed from the farm. Today, we're three generations removed from the farm. People need to understand that livestock production is designed to get the best product for the most affordable price. We need to get the public involved in the discussion, one person at a time."
Another issue needs attention from livestock producers, says Lear. That is the changing dietary guidelines for school lunch programs, administered by USDA, that reduce the amounts of allowable calories. Most school lunch programs have cut back on red meat servings to reduce the calorie counts. The new guidelines have generated protests from livestock producers, not to mention hungry kids, when they went into effect in the current school year. USDA seemingly changed its stance in late December when it announced schools could add more meat to school lunch menus, but USDA didn't change the requirement for reduced calorie counts. "So really, this situation hasn't changed," says Lear. "This issue will be back and we'll have to address it again."