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ASAE Conference Proceeding

This is not a peer-reviewed article.

Present and future U.S. Swine Welfare Issues. How is the Industry Responding?

A. K. Johnson, E. A. Lautner, and P. L. Sundberg

Pp. 190-195 in Swine Housing II, Conference Proceedings, 12-15 October 2003 (Raleigh, North Carolina, USA), ed. Larry Jacobson. ,12 October 2003 . ASAE Pub #701P1303


Recently in the U.S. there has been intense interest from the market place in animal welfare and on-farm production guidelines. Multiple communications with the marketing sector indicate that responsibility for animal welfare assurances may be transferred back to the producer. Therefore the National Pork Board’s Animal Welfare Committee (AWC) has worked with an international panel of experts to develop a program by which pork producers can objectively assess their swine welfare on-farm. The Swine Welfare Indexing System SM was the first phase of this collaboration and focused on gestating sow welfare. In 2002 the AWC expanded the program to include the farrowing sows and the neonatal piglet, nursery and finisher pigs. It has been renamed the Swine Welfare Assurance Program SM (SWAP SM ). Three sections of SWAP SM will assess swine welfare. The first is an evaluation of records, the second is animal observations, and the third is an assessment of the facilities. Certified SWAP SM Educators (CSE) will educate producers and provide assessments. SWAP SM will benefit producers by providing them with a voluntary, uniform, producer-developed tool to help maintain market access or open up new marketing channels from markets that ask for information about animal welfare practices. SWAP SM can also help producers evaluate and track animal performance and welfare over time and identify weaknesses in management, nutrition or health programs before they become production and welfare problems. SWAP SM will also demonstrate the U.S. pork producers’ commitment to the welfare of their animals.

KEYWORDS. Behavior, Health, Performance, Physiology, Swine, Welfare.


In the U.S. the pork industry, like other animal commodity groups, is being challenged and is under scrutiny from groups and individuals outside of the production sector. These challenges come from groups that range in their demands from those that do not agree with raising animals for food produce (PETA, 2003) to groups who oppose specific production practices or housing systems (AWI, 2003; HSUS, 2003;). In the mid 1990’s PETA began actively targeting fast food chain restaurants under a variety of slogans “McCruelty”, “Murder King” and “”Death in the Box” to highlight a few. McDonalds, and Burger King formed their own Animal Welfare Committees to formulate animal welfare guidelines for their suppliers. In 2000, McDonalds published their welfare guidelines and in 2001 Burger King followed suit. For the swine industry, McDonalds and Burger King recommended that more research funding should be done on alternative sow housing and to explore and evaluate the feasibility of purchasing a portion of their pork from suppliers who raise sows in more animal-welfare friendly conditions. In late 2001, Applebee’s sent out a detailed letter to their vendors insisting that they only purchase meat from suppliers that:

  • 1. Begin a process to phase out . . . farms that continuously confine sows….

  • 2. Immediately euthanize any animals at the slaughterhouse which are overheated or in severe pain

  • 3. Continuously improve the minimum living conditions of animals…..

  • 4. Not to accept any product from suppliers that mutilates animals for convenience

However, it should be acknowledged that Applebee’s retracted this letter early in 2002. In 2001 the National Council of Chain Restaurants (NCCR) who represent clientele such as McDonalds, Burger King, and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) who represent clientele such as Wal-Mart formed an alliance to address these animal welfare challenges uniformly. FMI and NCCR formed an Animal Welfare Committee to review producer guidelines and to create a process where third party auditing could be conducted to assure animals are raised, handled, transported and harvested for food consumption under controlled, animal welfare guidelines (FMI, 2003). The FMI-NCCR Animal Welfare Committee asked the following questions when reviewing producer guidelines:

1. Comparing pork guidelines to FMI-NCCR guidance

Was there input from other than producers?

Are the guidelines themselves science-based?

Is there an audit component to the guidelines?

2. Recommend changes for current practices that do not meet FMI-NCCR criteria

3. Encourage research

4. Review guidelines periodically

However, the National Pork Boards Animal Welfare Committee guidelines have been updated and these have now been given to FMI-NCCR for their acceptance (NPB, 2003). In June 2002 FMI-NCCR released their first report on producer guidelines. For swine the following statement was presented.

“One of the most challenging issues the pork industry faces is confinement of gestating sows. Current pork industry guidelines include several enhancements regarding sow stalls but our experts have challenged the industry to go further. As a short term measure the FMI and NCCR support enhanced pork industry guidelines regarding individual housing systems, including:

1. The pregnant sow should be able to lie down on her side without her teats extending into the adjacent stall.

2. Her head should not have to rest on a raised feeder.

3. Her rear quarters should not come into contact with the back of the stall.

4. The pregnant sow should be able to stand up unimpeded.”

For the full report please visit welfare/

NCCR-FMI at the time of writing this paper has yet to sign off on the pork industry guidelines and are beginning the process of formulating third part audits for dairy and layers at the farm, and audits at the packing plant.

National Pork Boards Animal Welfare Committee

The National Pork Board has an Animal Welfare Committee (AWC). The committee has representation from producers with different types and size of operations with expert advice from business and academic experts. Members of this committee are charged with using producer Checkoff funds to review the science of animal welfare, to relate that science to production practices and to inform producers about the latest, scientifically sound swine husbandry practices that can be implemented on the farm. The AWC mission statement is to maintain and promote the pork industry tradition of responsible animal care through the application of scientifically sound animal care practices.

National Pork Boards Animal Welfare Program

The National Pork Board has a variety of educational materials available on swine welfare. All of this information can be located at Documents’ that are widely used by producers are the Swine Care Handbook (2003) and the Pork Quality Assurance Program TM (PQA TM ). The Swine Care Handbook is the pork industry’s guidelines. The book consists of five chapters: (1) animal practices and animal husbandry (2) environmental management (3) facilities and equipment (4) feeding and nutrition and (5) herd health management. Experts in their respective fields have written each chapter. The PQA TM booklet contains 10 Good Production Practices or GPP’s with the newest addition being GPP #8 “Provide Proper Swine Care.” However, additional welfare information available is the On Farm Euthanasia of Swine - Options For the Producer (2001), brochures, videos on handling and transportation and welfare fact sheets. Several additional welfare fact sheets have been identified by the committee and will be commissioned in 2003, but available fact sheets on the web are, (1) Animal Ethics, (2) Animal Welfare Resolution, (3) Neonatal Management Practices, (4) Swine Stress and Pathogen Shedding, (5) U.S. Producer Code of Practice, (5) Welfare of Pigs During Transport and (5) Swine Welfare Assurance Program SM – Frequently asked Q & A’s.

Pork producers are fully supportive of adding to the scientific knowledge about swine welfare. The National Pork Board adopted a position statement on animal welfare guidelines for pork producers.

“Animal welfare guidelines developed without a sound scientific basis puts the welfare of the animal and the sustainability of the producer’s operation at risk. Therefore, the National Pork Board continues to support sound science as the only basis for animal welfare guideline decision-making.”

January, 2002

Six research areas have been identified by the AWC. In 2003 the priority list was as follows:

Sow Gestation Housing

Comparison of sow housing methods

Economic assessment of alternatives to current production practices and procedures

Sow Longevity

Evaluate the factors effecting sow longevity in the breeding herd

Space Requirements for Swine

Validation of welfare criteria used to evaluate space requirements for swine of all stages of production in various facilities and their relationship with production economics

Handling / Transport

Well-being of recently weaned pigs during transport

Defining space requirements during transport at all production phases

Production Practices

Define appropriate measures of well-being for recently weaned piglets

Evaluate swine well-being during routine production procedures

On Farm Euthanasia

Developing criteria for timely euthanasia decision-making

Measure the impact that euthanasia methods have on their timely application and on subsequent husbandry attitude of workers

Table 1. Funded Swine Welfare Research for 2002 from National Pork Boards Checkoff

P. I.



L. Johnson

Univ. MN

Enhancing sow welfare with high fiber diets and frequent feeding

J. Deen

Univ. MN

Comparison of housing systems for gestating sows

J. Salak-Johnson

Univ. IL

Effect of space allowance on group-housed dry sows

D. Levis

The Ohio State

Developmental of computer template(s) to economically assess alternatives to individual housing of gestating sows

R. Bates

Mi. State

Characterization of sow longevity and the developmental factors that influence it

C. Maxwell

Univ. AK

Effect of weaning age and co-mingling after the nursery phase of humoral and behavioral indicators of well-being and on growth parameters

T. Widowski

Univ. Guelph

Factors affecting the behavior of early weaned piglets

N. Lewis

Univ. Manitoba

Well-being of early weaned piglets: Assessment of seasonal effects on performance behavior and physiology

M. Morrow

N. C. State

Developing criteria for timely euthanasia decision making

Table 2. Funded Swine Welfare Research for 2003 from National Pork Boards Checkoff

P. I.



R. Kirkwood

MI. State

Influence of gestation housing on sow welfare and productivity

J. Deen

Univ. MN

Evaluation of the effect of group size and structure on welfare of gestating sows in pens with electronic sow feeders

S. Rodriguez-Zas

Univ. IL

Strategies to optimize sow longevity

M. Hill

Purdue Research Foundation

Lameness in pigs: Investigating a welfare issue in commercial herds in the Midwest

J. Salak-Johnson

Univ. IL

Impact of early weaning and photoperiod manipulation on pig welfare

Swine Welfare Assurance Program SM (SWAP SM ) – Development and Content

Independent of the FMI-NCCR process, the National Pork Board’s Animal Welfare Committee in 2000 identified the need for a nationally recognized on farm program that scientifically and objectively measured the welfare of the gestation sow. Initially the individual stalls were focused on because this was the most immediate challenge that the pork industry faced and is the most common housing system for gestation sows in the U.S. (Graph 1).

Graph 1. For sites that had specified production phases. Percentage of pigs (NAHMS, 2001).



It is generally accepted that there are three indications of welfare that should be measured together, these are behavior, performance and health and physiology. For an accurate picture of welfare, all three measures must be assessed. The AWC wanted to formulate an objective Swine Welfare Indexing System SM , encompassing these welfare measures, which would allow the welfare of the gestation sow housed in all types and sizes of farm to be measured. National and international experts from the fields of veterinary and animal science helped in developing this Index. These experts covered physiology, behavior, production, veterinary medicine, housing, handling and stockmanship / training. In addition, three areas of the farm were identified for welfare assessment, (1) farm records, (2) the animals directly and (3) the facilities. The experts and the AWC identified a total of 43 measures of welfare for inclusion into the Index. The Swine Welfare Indexing System SM was field tested over 2001 through early 2002 by experts in the fields of veterinary and animal science. The testing ensured that the Index was applicable to all production systems - independent of the system’s size or type of housing and that the measures of welfare identified provided an objective and accurate picture.


The AWC reviewed the results from the Swine Welfare Indexing System SM and concluded that this Index needed to be expanded to cover all phases of production. The Swine Welfare Assurance Program SM (SWAP SM ) replaces the Swine Welfare Indexing System SM . It is a voluntary educational and assessment program, which is producer implementable. SWAP SM was field tested in 2002 by veterinary, swine extension and animal science experts to ensure that it was firstly an objective tool and secondly that it was independent of housing type or operation size.

SWAP SM addresses production in two phases, (1) gilts, sows, boars and neonatal piglets and (2) nursery and finisher pigs. The SWAP SM program references other National Pork Board related material, PQA TM Level III (2001), On Farm Euthanasia of Swine - Options For the Producer (2001) and the Swine Care Handbook (2003). SWAP SM consists of nine Cares and Well-being Principles (CWPs) which can be found in Table 3.

Table 3. Swine Welfare Assurance Program SM Care and Well-being Principles.


Care and Well-Being

Record Keeping


Herd Heath and Nutrition


Caretaker Training

Animal Obs.


Animal Observation


Body Condition Score




Handling and Movement





Emergency Support


Continuing Assessment and Education

To help producers implement the SWAP SM program and have their sites undergo assessments, Certified SWAP SM Educators (CSE) will be trained through 2003. Each Educator will attend a one-day workshop and pass an exam. CSE’s qualifications are as follows:

Qualifications to attend a Certified SWAP SM Educator Training Session are:

Being a veterinarian or, Extension personnel or Ag Educator who has a working knowledge and familiarity with pork production and adult education or swine production training, including

  • B.S. Animal Science or equivalent and

  • Two years of recent documentable swine production experience

  • Pass examination given at a SWAP SM Educator training session

For a site to become a SWAP SM Certified Site an initial assessment must be completed by a CSE. For the site to remain SWAP SM certified, this process must be repeated every three years. However, frequent, internal assessments of the records, animals and facilities will provide a clearer picture of the sites animal welfare status.

Multiple benefits can be achieved from participating in the SWAP SM program. It will provide a voluntary, uniform, producer-developed tool to help maintain market availability or open up new marketing avenues. It can help producers evaluate and track animal performance and welfare over time. SWAP SM can identify weaknesses in management, nutrition or health programs before they become welfare and production problems and finally it demonstrates the U.S. pork producers’ commitment to the welfare of their animals.


Producers take pride in providing proper care for swine on their farms. The Pork Checkoff Animal Welfare Committee works alongside advisors who are swine welfare experts to base their decisions on defendable and sound science. The swine industry is responding to welfare demands in multiple ways. National Pork Board has educational tools, funds swine welfare research and is formulating a nationally recognized welfare program that all producers can participate in, the Swine Welfare Assurance Program SM . SWAP SM will help demonstrate the U.S. pork producers’ continual commitment to the welfare of their animals.


AWI. Animal Welfare Institute. 2003. Accessed on April 6 th 2003.

FMI. Food marketing Institute. 2003. Accessed on April 6 th 2003.

HSUS. Humane Association of the United States. 2003. Accessed on April 6 th 2003.

NAHMS. National Animal Health Monitoring System. 2003. Accessed on April 6 th 2003.

NPB. National Pork Board. Accessed on April 6 th 2003

NCCR. National Council of Cain Restaurants. 2003. Accessed on April 6 th 2003.

PETA. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. 2003. Accessed on

April 6 th 2003.