National Pork Industry Forum will be held March 6-8 in Orlando. Pork Board CEO Bill Even is featured in this edition of Pork Pod discussing issues that will be highlighted at Forum. That includes African Swine Fever, enhancements to the We Care initiative and the way the Pork Checkoff adapts to a changing world.
Bill Even, CEO, National Pork Board
|Don Wick: 00:16 From the Pork Checkoff in Des Moines Iowa, it’s Pork Pod. Pork Pod, a look at the hot topics in today’s pork industry. The Pork Checkoff is working for you through various forms of research, promotion, and consumer information projects. I’m Don Wick speaking on behalf of the Pork Checkoff, and today we’re pleased to have as our guest, the CEO of the National Pork Board, Bill Even. Bill, of course, Pork Forum is just ahead of us coming up in Orlando, Florida. Let’s preview! Certainly one of the big issues out there right now is African swine fever. Give me an idea. How will the delegates, how will the pig farmers at Pork Forum address the issue of ASF?
Bill Even: 00:40 Thanks Don. Yes, African swine fever is front and center in the minds of all pork producers in the United States and, indeed, globally. A couple of things real important to know is number one, African swine fever does not affect people. It does not affect people. And number two, pork is safe to eat, so it doesn’t affect people, it doesn’t affect pets and pork is safe to eat. That said, African swine fever is the most deadly foreign animal disease known to the swine industry. There is no vaccine or, you know, treatment available for it. And unfortunately, the pigs that do contract it, a high number of them can get sick and die. And so right now there’s been some African swine fever in various countries in Europe. Europe is aggressively moving to try to manage and contain it.
Bill Even: 01:34 The bigger issue is the fact that African swine fever is now endemic in China, and here just this week, Vietnam announced that they have some positive cases in Vietnam. So the number one goal of producers at Forum is going to be talking about prevention. How do we keep it out of the United States and frankly, North America for that matter. So the producers formed some special working groups and task forces to address this. We’ve got under secretary Greg Ibach from the USDA is planning to come to Forum and talk to the producers and address the delegate session around what’s the role that government has in ensuring that our, you know, our borders are secure and someone isn’t inadvertently bringing this terrible disease into the United States.
Don Wick: 02:25 How fully prepared would you say the U.S. is for a situation like African swine fever, any other foreign animal disease?
Bill Even: 02:33 Well, you’re never ever fully prepared because the best laid plans, you know, go out the window in the first day when something happens. But I would say this, kudos to the pork producers in the United States for putting together the Secure Pork Supply plan a few years ago. There’s been a high level of outreach by the National Pork Board, the National Pork Producers Council, the swine veterinarians, as well as the Swine Health Information Center, to make sure that people are aware of what they need to do for biosecurity. And then what the implications are for the pork industry. The biggest issue is if it hits, a couple of things happen, Don. Number one, immediately, all pig movement would stop. So we move about a million pigs per day, that got wheels on them, moving around the country. All that has to come to a halt until the state veterinarians, the USDA can pinpoint, okay, where do we have some sick pigs and where do we need to quarantine? Once we’ve got a handle on things, then it’s a matter of proving yourself, hey, you know, my pigs are fine, they’re healthy. I should be able to continue with my operations. But that’s gonna take a while. And the other bigger implication though is, is the issue of our export markets. So immediately our export markets would likely close and we export 27% of our production. So suddenly you will have 27% more pork on the market. That will depress prices. It’ll be a heck of a bargain for consumers, but it will be very devastating financially for pork producers in the country. So keeping it out is job one. And then second would be an early detection – rapid response so we can get it under control and make sure we get back to business as normal as soon as humanly possible.
Don Wick: 04:28 Certainly the We Care initiative has become the standard for the industry over the past 10 plus years. Let’s look forward. Where do we go from here?
Bill Even: 04:37 So We Care is the pork producer’s mantra. When we talk about it to consumers or whether we talked or grocery stores or restaurants, what are the real principles that we live and breathe and follow every day as we raise pigs in this country. And you’re right, the producers have had it out there for over a decade and literally a year ago this month, we sat down with grocery stores, we sat down with the food service industry. We sat down with non-government organizations as well as government agencies and asked them, what do you know about We Care and how does it fit in with your sustainability plans and your animal welfare plans for your company? And we found that a lot of people in the supply chain didn’t know a lot about it. And so 2019 is the year that the National Pork Board, in conjunction with the National Pork Producers Council, we’re going to start work and we’ve identified nine different producers, starting out in the states of Minnesota, Iowa and North Carolina, that are actually going to give tangible examples and data and be able to tell their story.
Bill Even: 05:50 And we’re going to take those stories to the supply chain. So taking it to the food service industry, and taking it to the grocery industry and also taking it to the NGO community. And show them with facts and examples of how pork is actually raised in this country and how are we taking care of our environment and our pigs in that process. So we’re very excited about the ability to, you know, do what we’ve always been doing and been very humble about it, but turn around and actually make a much more concerted effort to tell that to consumers, as well as the companies in the supply chain.
Don Wick: 06:29 We always talk about telling our story and that really needs to include telling that story to our industry stakeholders.
Bill Even: 06:35 Yeah. You often find that major companies that are maybe major grocery store chains or major restaurant chains, they may not have all the information and so they may choose to make a corporate decision or an investment, investor statement, that may or may not be aligned with what’s actually happening out there on the farm and in the fields. And it’s incumbent upon us. We can either sit back and complain about that or we can proactively engage these companies upfront and make sure that they understand that we are raising pork in a straightforward, environmentally sensitive and ethical manner.
Don Wick: 07:18 Bill, the Pork Checkoff has been working under the same business model for a long, long time. I understand a fresh look will be taken at this year’s Pork Industry Forum.
Bill Even: 07:28 That’s right. So the Pork Checkoff itself has been around in its current form since 1985 with the first mandatory checkoff, which gave you “Pork The Other White Meat” and a number of, you know, fantastically successful consumer ad campaigns. But the organization itself really dates back into the 50s, after World War II, when groups of producers banded together and formed county and state associations and voluntarily chipped in some money to help try to professionalize and educate the industry. Well, you fast forward across all of those generations and we, the board of directors at the Pork Board said, you know, we’ve been running for 20 years now, kind of with the same business model and structure. So they appointed a blue ribbon task force that actually meets right here the end of February. And that task force is going to start with a blank piece of paper. And it’s going to say, knowing how the pork industry looks today and knowing the opportunities and risks in front of us tomorrow, how would we reinvent or recreate the Checkoff going forward? This is going to be a very fundamental change in the organization with a goal towards building an agile organization that is going to be very responsive and call it very Johnny-on-the-spot for issues that producers are concerned about. It’s time, 20 years is a generational phase shift. We’re right in the middle of that now and we’re looking forward to doing it.
Don Wick: 09:03 What do you mean by an agile organization?
Bill Even: 09:05 An agile organization is an organization that is able to be very resilient and react to whatever comes at it. So for example, a non-agile organization would be slow, lumbering, slow to react, heavy with bureaucracy and take a long time to reach a decision or to allocate money or to get people working on a project. If you have an agile organization, meaning a nimble organization, you’ve got a light structure and you really operate with the idea that your producer leaders are going to have their finger on the pulse of the industry and you’re going to form, you know, task forces or work groups to tackle problems as they come up come at the industry or come at the organization. So, rather than waiting six months until you have a next committee meeting, the board of directors would take action more in real-time, and then tap those bright people at the land grants, tap the bright producers and other interested parties, get them working on something and put a deadline and a budget out there and expect action in much shorter order.
Don Wick: 10:17 That’s got to take an entirely different mindset. Bill.
Bill Even: 10:20 You know, it will. And, but the way I look at it, the producers that rallied together after World War II to start this industry and build the state associations, the producers that during the height of the farm crisis of the 80s, when times were tough and money was tight, they banded together, petitioned Congress, and actually started the Checkoff, levying that mandatory assessment on themselves because they knew it was the right thing to do to promote and professionalize their industry. You know, I look at this is, you know, there’s some really important, powerful, influential people that came before us. We owe it to them as the current stewards of this organization to constantly refresh and reinvent ourselves, and the time to do that is now!
Don Wick: 11:12 National Pork Industry Forum just ahead! Bill Even our guest today, CEO of the National Pork Board. Thank you for listening to this edition of Pork Pod. For more information on this topic or the Pork Checkoff itself, visit pork.org.