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Safe and nutritious: Pork Council speaks to dietitians on food safety, antibiotic use

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Casper – On Sept. 7, the Wyoming Chapter of the Association of Nutrition and Foodservice Professionals convened in Casper to learn more about food safety and antibiotic usage in the pork industry.

Joyce Kelly, executive director of the Colorado Pork Producers Council, visited with attendees about the concept of “one health,” changes in the pork industry and the new antibiotic usage ruling.

One health

Kelly began by stating, “We’re talking about the concept of one world and how it’s all connected. This is the concept of not only the health of people, but the planet and pigs.”

She explained the definition of “one health” by the American Veterinary Medical Association is an integrative effort to attain optimal health for people, animals and the environment.

“It’s our goal with this whole program to not only educate people about what’s going on in the hog industry but also educate consumers about how animals are really raised in the United States,” Kelly commented.

She continued, “We care about producing safe and nutritious food, protecting the well-being of our animals, protecting public health, providing a safe work space, making our community a better place and safeguarding the land we all live on.”

Improving nutrition

“Today’s pork is better for us than it ever has been before because of the changes made to the diets of the pigs,” said Kelly.

She explained in the 1970s, the pork industry saw a decline in pork demand because of concerns about whether pork products were nutritious.

“We make changes through science, technology and farming practices,” she commented.

Kelly continued, “Did the product change? What we fed the product changed. What we’re feeding pork is changing the nutrition we get from the animals to meet our needs.”

According to Kelly, seven of the most common hog cuts are 16 percent leaner than historically seen, and saturated fat is down 27 percent from the 1950s.

“Today, we have seven cuts that meet USDA guidelines for lean, and two of them are certified heart healthy by the American Heart Association,” she noted.

Transition to barns

According to Kelly, the industry’s transition to barn housing of hogs was instrumental in the elimination of trichinosis in the U.S. pork industry.

“The United States is certified trichinosis-free,” she said. “We do not have to kill our meat a third time before we eat it, and not having to overcook our pork really increases plate appeal.”

Trichinosis, caused by the pathogen Trichinella spiralis, was largely a result of poor feeding practices and exposure to other infected animals, and the transition to indoor barns gives producers greater control and protection over animal health.

Specialized barns are also important for protecting the hogs from extreme hot or cold temperatures to reduce physiological stress.

“Those hogs live in spa conditions of a constant 67 degrees their entire life. They don’t have fur to keep them warm, and we’re breeding them leaner so they don’t have that much fat to insulate them from the cold or the heat,” Kelly commented.

She noted raising hogs in barns also gives producers control over ventilation for air quality.

“Hogs are like humans. They can get asthma-like symptoms and upper respiratory infections,” she continued. “They have to have ventilation and quality air as much as we as humans do.”

Antibiotic use

Historically, Kelly explained that piglets were given an antibiotic after they were born as a preventative measure.

“We are now focusing on using antibiotics to treat illnesses instead of just to treat the hog in general,” she said. “We understand we need to reduce the need for antibiotics, and maintaining the protection provided by antibiotics for hogs and for people is our goal.”

She noted the 2017 Veterinary Feed Directive rule regulates the use of human medically important antibiotics in animals as part of a greater one health goal of reducing the incidence of antimicrobial resistance.

“One goal is using only what’s necessary for that animal’s health,” commented Kelly. “We can only get those antibiotics to treat an illness, to control the spread of an illness if there’s an outbreak in our barn or to prevent illness when the pigs are vulnerable to a certain disease.”

She cautioned that, without proper use of antibiotics in disease control, there would be higher mortality rates, increased disease incidence and an increase in foodborne illnesses.

“However, with proper use of antibiotics, we see we can reduce mortality, protect health and control diseases,” continued Kelly.

Producer training

“We have several responsible use programs for the pork industry,” explained Kelly.

The Blue Ribbon Panel on Antibiotics is one program the National Pork Board uses, featuring representatives from a variety of different industries.

Over $6 million has been given to research and education programs since 2000, with producer education being a high priority.

“There are education and certification programs pork producers go through, and then, we communicate with producers about how they can be effective without the tools they’ve had in the past,” she continued.

The Pork Quality Assurance Plus certification program is a major training program for producers on food safety and animal well-being.

“Many big packing houses will not take any products that were not raised by someone from the program because the whole chain is at risk if everyone doesn’t follow the rules,” Kelly said.

She concluded, “About 18,000 individual farms have gone through on-site assessments to determine if they’re handling issues for hog production properly, ensuring there’s a safe food supply.”

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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