The other reason I jumped at the chance to go is that there are so many myths about large-scale farming and a lot of confusion with the food industry. I strongly believe that as a dietitian, one of my main purposes is to bridge the gap between the farmers, the food industry, and the consumer. To be honest, previous to attending this tour, I was a little skeptical of indoor pig farming. I wondered how it measured up to raising pigs outdoors, where in my mind (previously) there is much more room for pigs to be, well, pigs! So, here’s a little bit about what I learned on my tour with the National Pork Board, NC Pork Council, National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), and Smithfield.
So I’m not saying one way of pig farming is better than the other. We met farmers who have raised pigs both indoors and outdoors throughout their career. I think there is room for both in our food industry and that we actually need both types of farming for the pork industry to survive. But, I have to say that the pigs that are being raised indoors are being treated just as well as any other pig outdoors.
Antibiotics are also used very sparingly when raising pigs. One of the vets on the tour with us described the process behind giving pigs antibiotics and it’s very labor intensive with strict record keeping regulations. The vet has to fill out a veterinary feed directive, which has the length of antibiotic course, dosage, withdrawal time, which pigs are receiving the medicine, and more. They’re definitely not just giving antibiotics willy-nilly. The only reason antibiotics will be used are to treat an illness when a pig gets sick, to control the spread of illness in neighboring pigs, and to prevent illness in specific times of vulnerability. I like to think of antibiotic use in animals as I do in humans – we try doing everything we can first before going to the doctor to be prescribed a medication when we are sick, and this philosophy is applied to pigs, as well.
We also learned about the We Care initiative, which is a joint effort between the National Pork Board and NPPC, as well as state organizations. It promotes practicing farming in a responsible way. The initiative encourages the farmers to always use best practices when raising their pigs and it’s also a promise to the public that our country’s pig farmers are committed to responsible and ethical animal agriculture.
Pig farming is also very sustainability focused. Manure from pig farms is moved to a lagoon where it is broken down and used as fertilizer on neighboring farms’ crops. Those crops are then harvested to help feed the pigs, so it’s a great sustainable circle. At dinner, I was chatting with Jan Archer, who uses her pigs’ manure to fertilize the hay they also grow on the farm. That hay gets sold to the goat farm down the road, who make goat cheese, and repurpose the whey for food for Jan’s pigs. Another sustainable practice is that the pork industry utilizes the whole pig during processing. The parts of the pig that are not popular here in America get shipped to countries, like Mexico and China.