Farm Horizons, February 2012

Pork producers press on tackle misconceptions of the industry

By Kristen Miller

Consumer misconception is the biggest challenge facing today’s pork industry. As a volunteer for Minnesota Pork Board’s Operation Main Street program, Jenna Davis, Cokato, is trying to educate consumers to clear the air surrounding pork production.

“People are so disconnected from the farm today that they don’t really understand how their food is produced,” Davis said.

Negative media has a lot to do with those misconceptions, as well, she said explaining that people will hear one bad report about animal production and assume all farmers work that way.

The national pork board – made up of pork producers, animal scientists, and swine researchers – began the “We Care” initiative to educate the public on current industry practices and ethical principles.

The producers feel they have an obligation to affirm their commitment to:

• produce safe food;

• protect and promote animal well-being;

• ensure practices to protect public health;

• safeguard natural resources;

• provide a safe work environment; and,

• contribute to a better quality of life in our communities.

In 1989, pork producers developed the Pork Quality Assurance program, a producer education and certification program that ensures US pork products are of the highest quality and safe. It also ensures the well-being of the animals being raised for food production.

The pork industry is very different than it was 30 years ago, Davis pointed out.

In the late 1970s, Americans became aware of the link between health and their diet.

Therefore, they began changing their eating habits and including leaner meats, like chicken, into their diets.

As a result, the demand for pork fell 4 percent each year between 1979 and 1985, while the sale of chicken surged, Davis explained.

This sparked a transition in the pork industry, which continues today.

The change included new science, technology, and management practices that have produced leaner, more nutritious pork in an efficient manner.

Davis explained that 50 years ago, pigs were raised outdoors.

Now, they are raised in indoor facilities with the understanding that raising animals with the best care results in better, healthier meat, Davis explained.

This industry change also introduced the campaign, “Pork: The Other White Meat.”

Pork is much leaner

A comparison of the seven most common pork cuts from 25 years ago shows they are 16 percent leaner today, and the amount of saturated fat has dropped 27 percent, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s research service.

Davis noted that pork tenderloin, at 2.98 grams of fat, is just as lean as a skinless chicken breast, at 3.03 grams of fat.

Similarly, a pork chop has 6.2 grams of fat, 3 grams less than a skinless chicken thigh, which has 9.25 grams of fat.

Davis also noted that because pork has changed, so have the cooking methods.

Whole cuts of pork need to be cooked to no more than 145 degrees to be medium-done, and the center should be slightly pink, she explained, advising not to overcook pork.

Local producers take pride in their farms

Pat FitzSimmons of Dassel, owns a large pork producing operation, along with his five brothers, with farms in Cokato, Dassel, and southern Minnesota, near Mankato.

One farm alone, in Cokato, raises 1,600 sows. The piglets are moved after 20 days to one of the two farms in Dassel (roughly 600 to 650 are born in a week).

After seven weeks, the pigs are moved to the farms in southern Minnesota to be raised for market (six months, or 280 pounds).

FitzSimmons is a member of the Minnesota Pork Board’s executive board, and will become vice president in March.

He is also a member of the National Pork Board’s Producer and State Relations Committee and has been an active member of the Wright County Pork Producers Association for 23 years, serving as its president for five years.

“Pork producers go through a lot of training to handle their hogs right,” he said, whether that be feeding, medicine, or overall animal care.

“Welfare [of the animal] is very high on every producer’s list,” he said, explaining that they need the pigs to be healthy too, because it’s their livelihood.

By the numbers

Pork continues to be the top exported meat, accounting for 27 percent of total US meat production.

In 2011, the first time in history, pork exports exceeded $5 billion in value; and could break $6 billion after final numbers are complete.

Nationally, Minnesota ranks third in the number of hogs its farmers raise – 14 million marketed in 2010 – North Carolina ranks second (14.3 pigs marketed), and Iowa is first at 36 million hogs marketed, according to the Minnesota Pork Board statistics.

In 2010, Wright County farmers sold 18,400 market hogs (270 pounds and around 6 months old) in 2010, with pork production peaking in 1943.

In Meeker County, 35,650 market hogs were sold in 2010, with production peaking in 1980.

McLeod County farmers sold 27,600 market hogs in 2010, and pork production peaked in 1980.

Carver County was the highest of the quad-county area with 58,650 market hogs sold in 2010, and pork production peaking in 1943.

About the Minnesota Pork Board

The Minnesota Pork Board (MPB) administers programs relating to pork promotion, consumer and producer education, and swine research on behalf of the 4,200 Minnesota pork-producing families who pay into the mandatory Pork Checkoff.

There is no MPB membership – all pork producers who pay into the Checkoff have access to MPB and National Pork Board programs, and are encouraged to sit on committees, run for board seats, and attend and vote at the annual meeting. The MPB office is in Mankato, and the NPB office is in Des Moines, IA.

The MPB does not address legislative issues, and mandatory Pork Checkoff funds do not go towards any programs that address local, state, or federal legislative initiatives. The MPB is affiliated with the National Pork Board. Both MPB and NPB programs receive US Department of Agriculture oversight.

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