by Mike King

There will be a major momentum shift this year in how pork quality is classified if USDA’s revision of its voluntary pork quality standards is approved. After more than 30 years, the federal government is moving forward with its internal process to revise the voluntary standards – an action likely to affect all pork chain segments, including how consumers view pork.

“This holds great promise for increasing pork consumption,” said Everett Forkner, a Richards, Missouri, producer and a member of the National Pork Board’s Pork Quality Task Force. “It also addresses one of the biggest concerns we hear from consumers – that pork packaging is inconsistent.”

“Ultimately, this should raise the quality and eating experience of all U.S. pork.”
– Missouri producer Everett Forkner

The task force, consisting of seven producers, four packer/processors and an academic, met the past two years to help find new ways to improve the consistency of pork quality based on Checkoff-funded research. The objective is to establish new quality benchmarks needed to meet consumer demand and expectations.

As part of its 2020 strategic plan, the National Pork Board set a quality goal of reducing pork loin chops that score below the board’s color score of “3” by 10 percentage points compared with the 2012 retail baseline study (55 percent cut to 45 percent, with an 18 percent overall improvement).

“We’re discussing this goal with all pork chain segments, including packers, processors, retailers, and foodservice,” said Steve Larsen, assistant vice president of science and technology for the Pork Checkoff. “New voluntary standards will build on efforts to educate consumers about what quality attributes to look for in pork, such as meat color and marbling.”

A Win-Win Scenario

Consumers base their pork purchases on quality as defined by color, packaging and expiration date.
According to Forkner, it’s about giving consumers what they want and having a system that rewards that ability.
“Improved voluntary standards can allow for product differentiation based on quality and eating experience,” Forkner said. “This will offer consumers new pork purchasing opportunities.”

Forkner sees this benefiting both domestic and international markets.

“Ultimately, this should raise the quality and eating experience of all U.S. pork, and that’s good for all pork producers,” said Forkner, who offers practical, on-farm advice for fellow producers.

“As USDA works on the revisions, talk to your genetics supplier, packer/buyer and nutritionist about how you can improve pork quality,” Forkner said. “Review anything that can affect it, from pig handling to hauling.”

He added, “If you believe an opportunity is coming to help your farm, take action. You need to start now if you want to be there when it becomes available.”

In the interim, Pork Checkoff-funded research into various new technologies for assessing quality in packing plants is being evaluated for real-world use, Larsen said.