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Quality assurance standards date back 30 years

By Diane DeWitte, Swine Extension Educator
Originally printed in The LAND - April 5/April 12, 2019

Did you know that for 30 years, pork producers in the United States have participated in a voluntary program to ensure that customers have the utmost confidence that the pork they feed their family is safe to eat?


In 1989 the National Pork Producers Council initiated the Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) program to encourage swine farmers to use animal health products responsibly. This voluntary effort was the pork industry’s first step in addressing their food safety responsibilities through self-governance.

Producers were concerned that the product they delivered to the consumer be safe and that US pork would be trusted and preferred by customers. The PQA curriculum was developed by producers, packers, and researchers, and called PQA Level III. Producers got a PQA Level III certification number after a face-to-face visit with a veterinarian, an ag teacher, or a university Extension person.

PQA Level III consisted of 10 Good Production Practices (GPP) which highlighted appropriate use of medication, withdrawal times, and how to keep pigs healthy with minimal use of animal health products; the PQA advisor reviewed the Level III handbook with the producer. They both signed a postcard that Level III had been completed and mailed it to the National Pork Board in Des Moines.


To address animal care concerns voiced by consumers, the swine industry spent 3 years developing an assessment program. The National Pork Board implemented the Swine Welfare Assurance Program (SWAP) in 2003. SWAP was a benchmarking system which covered records, animals and facilities. It was another voluntary program, and SWAP provided producers with user-friendly production practices which addressed swine welfare, no matter the size of the farm.


In 2007, America’s pig farmers adopted the We Care initiative to address consumer concerns and to emphasize that the swine industry is responsible and aware of what pigs need. The We Care ethical principles include
  • Produce Safe Food
  • Protect & Promote Animal Well-Being
  • Ensure Practices to Protect Public Health
  • Safeguard Natural Resources
  • Provide a Work Environment that is Safe and Consistent with Our Other Ethical Principles
  • Contribute to a Better Quality of Life in our Communities
In addition to rolling out the We Care initiative, in 2007, the National Pork Board combined PQA and SWAP to form Pork Quality Assurance Plus (PQA+). The “plus” was important content which focused on specific animal care and proper animal handling practices for different stages of production.

PQA had always been a 3-year certification, and the National Pork Board worked in the interim to update and sharpen the curriculum’s research-based content. It was in the 2007 update that the PQA+ Site Assessment was introduced. Producers could have a PQA+ Advisor visit their farm to assess the pigs, facilities and records, offering the advantage of a “new set of eyes”. Producers who participated in the PQA+ Site Assessment then obtained “Site Status”, which also was good for three years.


During the years of the PQA+ expansion, a Youth PQA educational program was developed for education of young swine exhibitors. Junior swine exhibitors realized the value of participating in Youth PQA+ when large livestock shows across the country began to require the certification.

Today, swine’s Youth PQA+ has joined forces with beef cattle, sheep, dairy cattle, goats, market rabbits and poultry to be a part of Youth for the Quality Care of Animals (YQCA). YQCA is a national quality assurance program for youngsters age 8 to 21. YQCA focuses on three core pillars: Food safety, Animal well-being, and Character development. YQCA covers a wide variety of livestock information designed to enhance the junior exhibitor’s show experience, and develop a young producer in the animal agriculture industry.


No discussion of PQA+ is complete without covering the other swine quality assurance program, Transport Quality Assurance (TQA). Originally established with packers in 2001, the TQA curriculum focuses more closely on animal handling, how handling affects pork quality, safe transport of pigs, and the importance of meticulous biosecurity when transporting pigs. Any driver who hauls pigs to a packing plant is required to be TQA certified, and various swine farms may ask all of their pig handlers to complete TQA. TQA certification also lasts for three years, and participants in the course online or face-to-face must pass an exam.


Since 2007, a team of National Pork Board personnel, swine producers and researchers have revamped and adjusted the PQA+ curriculum every three years. In 2013, a PQA+ exam was added to the certification, and the training went online. Today producers can earn their certification at home, following through the 90 minute educational content and taking the exam online.

Here in Minnesota, the MN Pork Board schedules bi-monthly face-to-face PQA+ and TQA training workshops across the state. The workshops are conducted by University of Minnesota animal science professors or Extension educators, and dates can be found on the MN Pork website at PQA+ and TQA workshops are free to attend, and all swine caretakers and handlers are encouraged to be certified.

This June the National Pork Board will roll out the new PQA+ Version 4. This new version closely aligns the quality assurance content with the We Care ethical principles in a way that highlights producers’ continuous improvement of responsible production practices.


PQA+ has a long reputation of top quality materials, from printed manuals to videos, presentations and recordings. The national Pork Checkoff funds all of these and the time and effort to develop them from year-to-year. US pork producers and importers pay $.40 per $100 of value when pigs are sold and when pigs or pork products are brought into the United States. These Checkoff dollars also fund swine research which is used in each new version of quality assurance materials.

What has 30 years of focus on quality assurance done for the US pork industry? Today in the US, there are 71,000 pig farmers and their farm team members PQA+ certified, and 18,000 swine farms with PQA+ Site Status. The industry exports 27% of US pork abroad, pork that is recognized domestically and internationally as the highest quality and safest available. Pig farmers’ support of and participation in this science-based, long-standing quality assurance program ensures that consumers of pork can trust the pork they purchase.

Diane DeWitte is a University of Minnesota Extension swine educator based in Mankato. She can be reached at
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