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Preventive Veterinary Medicine and Hygiene On-Farm Strategies for the Assurance of Safety and Quality in Pork Production



S.C. Kyriakis, C. Alexopoulos
Clinic of Productive Animal Medicine and Clinic of Obstetrics and AI
Department of Clinical Studies, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
540 06 Thessaloniki, Greece


Production of comestible animal-products has been rapidly changed from traditional to intensive/industrial. The main criterion for such a transition was higher meat production achieved with the lowest cost. Today the results of this development could be documentary viewed. Especially, pig production has been based on uncontrollable industrialization of animal feeds and the connection with the primary plant production has been desolated. Intensive housing and management systems without any respect to animal welfare and environment protection created serious and difficult to treat disease syndromes and complexes, thus increasing the use of antimicrobial/antibiotic agents in pigs. As a consequence consumers started not to trust animal products. Even the most favorable approaches show that confidence of animal products will be further undermined in the future. This paper highlights the necessity of application of comprehensive on-farm intervention veterinary strategies for the assurance of safety and quality in pork production.


During the last 50 years the production of comestible animal-products has been dramatically changed from traditional to intensive/industrial. Application of intensive breeding systems in pigs was based on high populated units (terrific "animal-cities"), where extremely high number of animals are bred under difficult conditions, without any respect to animal welfare and health. This condition, based only to the attempt of lowering the cost of production, finally created serious and difficult to treat disease syndromes and complexes, as well as new diseases, known as "man made diseases". Therefore, there was a dramatic increase in the use of antimicrobial/antibiotic agents in pigs, thus leading to unpredictable consequences for human health. On the other hand uncontrollable industrialization of animal feed with the use of doubtful but cheep raw materials or recycling animal by-products in feeding schedules deranged seriously the safety and quality of pork production.

For the above reasons today's meat production and consumption have been under heavy criticism. Pig industry, began to recognize the growing pressure to change from an intensive production driven to a more consumer and market oriented production; from quantity to quality. In many countries, but particularly in Europe and North America, there is an increasing concern among consumers about the origin, the safety and wholesomeness of their daily food, especially meat. Furthermore other issues like the link between BSE and human disease, food-borne pathogens, the extensive use of antimicrobial-antibiotic agents as feed additives and the risk of bacterial resistance against them, the drug residues problem, the most recently dioxins and PCB's, environmental concern and animal welfare concern, have established an untrustworthy communication policy between animal-food industry and consumers. Despite the fact that many times the problems have been stirred up by extensive mass media coverage, unambiguously in the near future the meat industry can only survive the intense international competition with an optimal market oriented approach to satisfy consumer demands. A strict integrated quality assurance approach in all parts of the production process, from "conception to consumption" or from "stable to table", is therefore necessary.


There is no doubt that achievement of safe and high quality pork depends on elimination of a series of factors which could have a negative influence on product's safety and intrude oneself into any stage of production, handling and preservation. Since these factors are multitudinous, it is firstly essential to control those which are more dangerous, taking care not to increase excessively the cost of production. The main principles of such a production should be based to more martinet work protocols applied during pig breeding, slaughter and meat processing. Veterinarians are now called to respond either to the planning or to the strict application of product safety and quality programs. According to experience gained during last years it is obvious that most of the problems, which created questionableness for meat safety and quality, arise from the field of primary production. It is, therefore, necessary, to revise the applied procedures, starting from the farm. On-farm safety programs should be based onto three principles: (a) application of protocols in breeding, feeding, hygiene and management of the animals in order to eliminate the possibility of pork sticking, (b) verification of the effectiveness of such applications and (c) control of critical points during production from recognized third parts.


1. Application of creditable breeding programs

Pork quality depends on pig genetic background, feeding, slaughter procedures and preservation methods. As far as the genetic background is concerned, specific protocols relating to genetic selection and breeding should be applied in the farms. Concerning fatteners the goals achieved should be: at least 80% of the fatteners to be negative by using halothane test and their carcasses to obtain a pH24>6.0, while the percentage of Hampshire's participation to be less than 50%.

2. Hygiene interventions in the field of pig feeding

Pig feeding is a crucial field to achieve safety for the consumer in pork production. Three main criteria should be used in this area:

a) Elimination of animal by-products as raw materials in pig feeding, since these are extremely sensitive to contamination with pathogens and easily undergo chemical changes which lead to the presence of undesirable agents like hyperoxides, etc.

b) Utilization of plants without residues of chemicals used in agriculture, as well as use of raw materials of natural origin, like acidfiers, probiotics, origanum essential oils, enzymes, organic acid mixtures, etc. which have been found to improve health status and performance of pigs. Moreover, the use of toxin-free and especially mycotoxin-free plants is essential to ensure safety in pork production.

c) Elimination of the use of antibiotics/antibacterials in feeds.
In order to maximize the possibility to avoid dangers originated from feed, a "safety and quality certificate" has to be instituted for animal feed manufactures and distributors, throughout the whole feed production procedure, with very hard judicatory punishments for defaulters.

3. Control of swine diseases with the lowest use of antibacterial/antibiotic agents

Elimination of the use of antibacterial/antibiotic agents in pigs should be based to the appropriate application of protocols relating to:

a) All-in all-out systems

b) Frequent disinfections of animals, buildings and equipment with safe disinfectants

c) Use of the proper vaccination programs

d) Use of the proper metaphylaxis program, especially in weaners.
The constant veterinary supervision of the farm is therefore necessary and veterinarians should keep a detailed file relating to any pharmaceutical agent used, which has to be available at any time to the relative veterinary authorities. Veterinarians and farmers should also have the responsibility against the law for any breach of the rules concerning use of pharmaceutical agents.

4. Elimination of food-borne pathogens in pigs

Food-borne disease remains a significant cause of mortality and economic burden, and due to continual exposure to media reports of food-borne disease outbreaks and food product recalls, consumers are increasingly demanding higher quality and safer foods. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) estimates that the contamination of meat and poultry products with pathogenic bacteria results annually in as many as 4.000 deaths and 5.000.000 illnesses (1996). The primary bacterial pathogens associated with these numbers are salmonella, campylobacter, E.coli 0157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes, Yersinia enterocolitica and Trichinella spiralis. However, food-borne illnesses originate from a variety of sources, and it is not currently possible to estimate the proportion of human food-borne disease due to foods of swine origin.

 Nowadays, it is well appreciated that producing safe and wholesome food can only be assured if food safety practices occur throughout the production continuum from "stable to table". Nevertheless, beginning the production chain with raw materials that carry pathogens at the lowest levels possible allows us to improve the effectiveness of food safety procedures at subsequent production levels.

So it is quite clear today that the initial responsibility to minimize the contamination levels of pathogenic bacteria and all other potential hazards on raw meat and poultry starts with the farm.

5. Application of animal welfare in swine production

Until recently, consumer demand appeared to be a simple one: for meat of satisfactory quality at an acceptable price. However, with increase public concern in many countries about animal welfare in some of the systems in which meat is being produced, consumer demand seems to have been changed.

Nowadays, consumers are interested in and aware of the way the animals are handled during production, transport and slaughter. It is true, that a lot of work in this area needs to be done. Only a few countries have animal welfare programs for the swine industry. The role of the veterinarians is crucial as they can help the industry make these programs realistic and profitable.

6. Rodent and insect control in pig-farms

Rodent and insect control are vital to the control of biological hazards on the farm. Rodents have been implicated in the transmission of more than 25 diseases both to human and pig. They spread disease into uncontaminated areas via their droppings, feet, urine, saliva, or blood. Rodent control will require the elimination of hiding spots in and around the facility, e.g. garbage, broken equipment, boxes. Feed should be stored in secure containers to reduce the attraction of rodents and avoid contamination. Installation of rodent barriers and guard strips on doors and the use of rodenticides may be required. Insect control requires the use of good sanitary habits and the removal of animal waste. Excessive amounts of moisture and garbage must be eliminated.

7. Control of agents influencing health effects of work in swine confinement buildings

Confinement buildings are commonly used to raise pigs in all over the world. However, this environment has been associated with a variety of human health concerns. Respiratory complaints and other problems related to inhaling dust and gases are common in those who have long- term employment in these settings. The main problems are an asthma-like syndrome and bronchitis with mild pulmonary function changes and signs of airways inflammation. Mucous membrane irritation syndrome and organic dust toxic syndrome are also seen. It is therefore necessary to establish a regular medical control of the farm workers. Moreover, it is well known that poor environmental quality has also an adverse affect on both health and productivity of pigs (the growth rate can be reduced by more than 9% when pigs are exposed to 50 ppm ammonia). It is believed that all of these can be prevented or reduced by improving air quality (reduce ammonia, organic dust, endotoxins and improving ventilation rate).


The above mentioned goals can only be achieved by continuous improvement in hazard identification and prevention at the farm level with the implementation of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point Systems (HACCP).

The main principles of HACCP systems are the following:

1. Hazard analysis inspection, including biological, chemical and physical conditions that could jeopardize the safety of foods.

2. Identify CCPs at which control can be applied and a food safety hazard can be prevented, eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level.

3. Establish critical limits for each CCP.

4. Establish CCP monitoring requirements.

5. Define the corrective action when monitoring indicates a problem.

6. Establish effective record-keeping procedures to document the HACCP system.

7. Establish verification procedures for the HACCP system.

An effective at farm-level safety program will lead to improved food safety at subsequent production levels. If producer groups standardize their on-farm procedures, have them certified by third party certification entities, and if the pigs which are produced under the defined good management practice rules, can be separated from the ordinary, the value of the final product can only increase.

The industry needs guarantees about the health status of the pigs and the use of drugs in the production stage, because it is impossible to monitor each individual pig at slaughter for drug residues and zoonotic diseases. The producer and the veterinarian of the 21st century must be able to provide such guarantees. Pork producers who want to meet the consumer demands of future markets create quality assurance systems. An effective data flow between farms, slaughter houses and veterinarians (who are best able to apply the principles of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) is crucial for such systems. Furthermore, swine industry could benefit from veterinary expertise in risk communication to consumers.


A revision of the current policy concerning all stages of pork production is absolutely necessary for a viable swine industry in the future. Preventive veterinary medicine and hygiene on-farm strategies based on HACCP system procedures should be further developed. Farms supervised by a specifically authorized veterinarian and controlled by an official veterinary authority, labeling the final product, could be the most reliable way to achieve pork safe for consumer's health.

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