Our Animal Welfare Practices and Policies
At Smithfield, our people care about the welfare and human treatment of our animals, and diligently make the connection between food safety and animal care. Through every stage of our animals' lives we provide disease prevention, regular veterinary care, biosecurity and safe, comfortable housing.
Animal Care Highlights and Achievements
We continued to enhance our legacy management approach to animal care. At the same time, we understand the importance of the Five Freedoms of animal welfare.
We extended our Process Verified Program (PVP) certification, a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that helps ensure animals coming to our facilities have been raised where management systems address the welfare of animals, to all our U.S. suppliers.
We continued to achieve excellence in animal care, reaching each of our 2020 targets and introducing new targets, including a commitment to implement barn-enrichment initiatives on company-owned farms by 2030.
Our Goals And Targets
Our Guiding Principles for Animal Welfare
Smithfield takes pride in the responsible stewardship of our animals. Animal well-being is a top company priority and deeply engrained in our commitment to producing food responsibly. As part of that commitment, we recognize the importance of the UK Animal Welfare Committee’s (AWC’s) “Five Freedoms,” which outline ideal physical and mental states to promote animal well-being: freedom from hunger and thirst; from discomfort; from pain, injury or disease; from fear and distress; and to express normal behavior. Our company remains committed to continuous improvement in these areas and urges every member of our Smithfield Family and farmers in our supply chain to uphold these values. Every employee is responsible for ensuring Smithfield’s animal care standards and comprehensive Animal Care Policy are upheld.
In addition to our Animal Care Policy, our support of the Five Freedoms is underpinned by our wide-ranging management systems, policies, practices and culture of accountability.
Every employee is responsible for ensuring Smithfield's world-class animal care standards and comprehensive Animal Care Policy are upheld.
ANIMAL CARE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
Our Animal Care Management System provides a comprehensive approach to animal welfare across our supply chain and throughout the animals’ lives. It specifies requirements for employee training, compliance checks and audits on our company-owned farms, at the family farms we contract with, during transport and in our processing facilities, and it ensures that any issues of noncompliance are swiftly corrected.
We regularly review and enhance our approach to align with scientific research, technological innovation and opportunities for operational efficiencies
Animal Care Management
We established a corporate-level Animal Care Committee in 2002 to ensure our animal policies are properly implemented. The committee, which consists of Smithfield employees with animal care responsibilities at our farms and processing facilities, reviews our policies at least once annually and communicates the importance of our program throughout the organization.
To ensure the safety and well-being of all our animals, we created an Animal Handling and Welfare Quality Management Plan. Used at all Smithfield processing facilities in the United States, this plan reinforces our Animal Care Policy; includes our animal handling program and supplier expectations; and identifies required personnel, training, auditing and adherence to regulations.
Our Animal Care Management System provides a comprehensive approach to animal care on all our farms. It includes employee training and audits to make certain that our animal care policies are followed at all times and that any issues of noncompliance are swiftly corrected.
All hog farms must adhere to the guidelines of the National Pork Board (NPB) Pork Quality Assurance® Plus (PQA® Plus) program. PQA® Plus provides guidelines for proper care of animals to ensure optimal health and well-being. It includes on-farm assessments and third-party verification that proper care is being implemented. In addition, the Common Swine Industry Audit (CSIA) verifies that we are following industry standards and that our farms are compliant with our Animal Care Policy.
All drivers who transport our animals, including contract and independent supplier drivers, must be trained and certified under the NPB’s Transport Quality Assurance® (TQA®) program. TQA® provides education and guidelines for transporters, producers and animal handlers on all aspects of hog handling and transportation.
Animals are treated with respect at processing facilities, just as they are when growing at farms. Each facility uses a systemic approach to animal care that includes the Smithfield Animal Handling and Welfare Quality Management Plan, a comprehensive training program, internal audits and third-party audits.
Animal Care Requirements
To implement our Animal Care Policy and make sure that animals are properly cared for, we rely on a comprehensive system of policies and procedures as well as internal and third-party auditing platforms.
Some of the requirements are specific to our hog farms; others are expressly for processing plants. We constantly assess these tools to be sure we are following current science that promotes the most humane treatment of animals.
On U.S. Farms
All our farms in the United States are 100% compliant with the NPB PQA® Plus program, which serves as the basis for the CSIA. To learn more about third-party certifications and audits, please visit the Industry Certifications and Verifications section.
Each farm’s compliance with the PQA® Plus standard is reviewed every three years. To ensure we remain compliant between reviews, our trained internal auditors conduct annual animal care audits, aligned with the CSIA, on company-owned farms.
We consistently strive for an audit score of “excellent” (97% or above) across all our farm regions, including our genetics research facilities. All farms are audited annually; in some cases, farms may be audited as groups, resulting in a lower number.
External auditors, who are retained by Smithfield Foods, conduct random, unannounced visits at company-owned farms to perform the CSIA. External auditors evaluate “big-picture” issues, including whether our internal auditors assess performance consistently across locations. Any audit findings are reviewed by management. Sites that fail an external audit are reaudited within 30 days, must show that any nonconformance has been corrected and will also undergo an audit in the subsequent year.
At U.S. Facilities
Our facility management system follows the standards set in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Process Verified Program (PVP) and monitors several key aspects of production, including traceability to farm of origin, PQA® Plus program adherence on farms and TQA® status of livestock haulers.
Our programs help ensure the animals that come to the facilities were raised where management systems address health, animal well-being and proper use of antibiotics.
A third-party company performs annual audits at all our fresh meat-processing facilities based on North American Meat Institute (NAMI) guidelines.
In addition to regulatory oversight and enforcement by the USDA Food Safety Inspection Services, which has representatives stationed inside each of our locations every day of operations, all facilities are audited on a pass-fail basis by Smithfield employees at least once during each shift.
Our International Operations
Animal handling protocols at our locations in Poland and Romania include comprehensive document controls to ensure traceability, rigorous biosecurity protocols that meet all national and European Union (EU) regulations, proper hygiene measures and humane euthanasia.
Our international operations are regularly audited to ensure compliance with local and EU regulations. Government veterinarians regularly inspect our farms and facilities in both Poland and Romania. These external audits verify compliance with national animal care laws and biosecurity measures to reduce the risk of diseases. Additional random inspections take place throughout the year.
Trained internal auditors conduct audits of farming operations to verify compliance with animal care procedures, biosecurity and traceability, employee training programs and transportation systems. Nonconformance is addressed with swift corrective action, and we provide support and technical assistance to help each facility remain compliant.
Animal Care Policy Statement
Smithfield is committed to being an industry leader in animal care practices to ensure respectful and humane treatment of animals; to produce wholesome food products; and to analyze our operations and practices, including internal and independent third-party audits, to ensure continual improvement.
All operations involved with the production or processing of live animals are required to provide:
- Comprehensive written animal care programs to ensure animal well-being
- Shelter that is designed, maintained and operated to provide a physical environment that meets the animals’ needs
- Access to adequate water and high-quality feed to meet animal nutrition requirements (production facilities) and in accordance with the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act 1978 (processing facilities)
- Humane treatment of animals that ensures their well-being and meets or exceeds all applicable legal and regulatory requirements, including the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1978 and all applicable NAMI Animal Handling Guidelines (processing facilities)
- Identification and appropriate treatment of animals in need of care
- Timely use of humane methods to euthanize sick or injured animals not responding to care and treatment
This is done through the genetics equivalent of matchmaking. Researchers select animals from generation to generation, pairing them up to create the ideal descendants for that perfect rack of ribs or the tastiest ham. We determine which animals will make the best parents to produce the best offspring that will result in the tastiest meat. The meat we produce today isn’t something that happened by accident. It’s the result of years of genetics research and effort.
In facilities in North Carolina and Texas, more than 200 technicians, genetic researchers and veterinarians look for new ways to improve the genetic traits of the animals, focusing on everything from a sow’s nursing skills to a piglet’s feeding abilities to the characteristics that result in the greatest flavor with the perfect amount of fat and marbling.
We also select for specific genetic traits that will keep our animals comfortable and healthy. Our teams collaborate with other researchers across the United States and internationally, focusing on a host of features, including a pig’s ability to efficiently gain weight.
Using a variety of statistical tools, we collect hundreds of animal traits and analyze them to determine which are the best ones for the next generation going forward. We manage a range of objectives, from growth performance to tenderness to yield. And, of course, flavor. This type of work takes time—once genetic improvements are identified, it can take as many as five years for those changes to be represented in our food products.
We firmly believe that Smithfield hogs offer a superior taste and eating experience. Our hogs raised today are a combination of three heritage breeds: 100% Durocs on the male side and a 50–50 cross between Landrace and Large White hogs on the female side. Although the three lines are common worldwide, the hogs we have bred are unique within our industry. Our genetics program itself is also unique. Other meat companies in the United States use third parties to develop their breeding programs. Thanks to our vertically integrated research, we can literally trace the genetic lines across our entire pork chain, from breeding to farms to the final product.
In addition, our hogs today require fewer resources to raise, thanks to a targeted effort by our geneticists to identify characteristics that enable us to raise animals more efficiently. For example, some humans gain weight more easily than others, the result of the genes they inherited. We want to produce hogs that gain weight more easily. That’s because hogs that convert calories more efficiently require fewer resources (and fewer days) to grow from infancy to market weight.
The swine genome became available in 2009 and is the primary tool we use in our work today. From that data, we were able to refine our abilities to capture DNA information and use it to screen animals that will parent the next generation. It typically takes three to four years before we see the selections we have made show up in the animals on our farms.
We also keep in mind biodiversity, so we can ensure a diverse population of hogs. In other words, we breed across familial lines.
Outside of their labs, our geneticists spend quite a bit of time educating Smithfield employees about what they do. The program that describes their work, “The Smithfield Experience,” has trained thousands of Smithfield employees over the years, giving them insight into our breeding program and why it is so successful.
At Smithfield Foods, it’s important to note that our robust genetic program does not currently include gene editing. We do not add or manipulate genes.
Rather, we employ the science of genomics, which includes calculating thousands of genetic data points to accurately predict characteristics for the next generations of hogs. The science involved in gene editing is still evolving. The company’s focus remains on the development and improvement of its products through careful selective breeding and genetic research. Smithfield will continue to monitor and study scientific research on gene-editing technology for potential future opportunities.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
Meat and poultry livestock are not GMOs. However, most of our animals are fed grains (including corn and soybeans) that may have used GMO technologies.
All GMO crops have been evaluated by a host of regulatory agencies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as many scientific organizations, and have been found to be safe for people and animals to eat. There is no evidence that animals are affected by eating grain from plants with genetically modified characteristics.
At Smithfield, we monitor the dialogue about GMOs and stay current with scientific research. We do not require any of our suppliers to be non-GMO.
We do not produce protein products from cloned animals and have no plans to do so in the future. Although the FDA has concluded that protein products from cloned animals are safe for human consumption, the science involved in cloning animals is evolving. We will continue to monitor further scientific research on this technology.
We maintain our focus on the development and improvement of our protein products through careful selective breeding and genetic research.
Our companywide feed and food safety programs follow the requirements of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Our FSMA-based safety plan is customized for each feed mill and bakery meal operation and maintained with ongoing employee training.
We began implementation of our Safe Feed/Safe Food program at our feed mills and bakery meal operations in 2020. It provides an accountability framework for how we manufacture and deliver safe and nutritious animal feed, including feed-production oversight and quality assessments from ingredient origins to the final delivery of the feed to our pigs. Our aim is to complete the rollout, including internal and external audits, in 2021.
About one-third of the water we use in our operations supports our farms, providing water for our pigs to drink and for sanitation, cooling and biosecurity to maintain their health. We cooperate with local communities to proactively address water quality and use.
Precise formulas of corn, soybean meal, wheat and minerals and vitamins, when fed in the proper amount at the right time, allow our animals to grow and gain lean muscle. Our animal nutrition experts routinely study ways to improve the efficient use of our animal feed, analyzing raw ingredients and finished feeds for nutritional content and quality. They also work with our research and technology group to evaluate the impact of novel feed concepts and additives on animal performance. With our procurement team and our feed mill and bakery meal operations, they ensure they are producing feed that consistently meets the nutritional needs of the animals in a safe and economical way.
We encourage our contract sow growers in the United States to transition to group housing systems and collaborate with them to provide guidance and expertise when requested. Despite the increased cost of supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately one-third of our contract farmers completed the transition to group housing systems by 2020 year-end.
Our poultry growing farms and hatcheries in Poland, which provide chicks to 300 independent growers, use cage-free housing according to EU animal welfare and Polish animal welfare requirements.
Our new 2030 target commits us to exploring the growing scientific understanding of barn enrichment and to adopting the recommendations from our assessment on company-owned farms by 2030. Effective environmental enrichment with bedding, toys and other objects that encourage normal pig behaviors like rooting and chewing has been shown to improve the welfare of pigs and help manage undesirable behaviors. For example, Smithfield researchers have investigated and recently implemented enrichment tactics to help manage tail biting. We provide enrichment for pigs on our company-owned farms in Poland and Romania where it is a legal requirement of the EU.
Smithfield’s hog-production research team aims to advance practices to improve the welfare of our animals at all stages of their lives. In addition to our research on tail biting, in 2020 we continued to participate alongside international partners in the industrywide Pain Mitigation Task Force. The task force is exploring test methodologies to assess pain associated with routine procedures, such as tail docking for piglets. Following the completion of a pilot pain assessment project in August 2020, we anticipate FDA approval to launch a field validation study in early 2021.
We took tremendous efforts to protect the health and safety of our workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. For Smithfield, this resulted in the temporary shuttering of six of our processing facilities. A regrettable outcome of the closures was insufficient processing capacity within our supply chain, which necessitated transporting some of our animals to new homes and humanely euthanizing others.
To learn more, download the 2020 Sustainability Report and visit our report Appendix.
Our robust animal health management program, overseen by staff veterinarians, unifies our commitment systemwide. It maintains judicious use of antibiotics to produce healthy animals and make our food supply safe. The independent animal suppliers we work with are encouraged to judiciously administer all medications as well. Our veterinarians ensure sound animal care practices and good nutrition, perform preventive health examinations, authorize or prescribe vaccines and antibiotics and are proactive in assessing potential health threats.
We understand that antibiotic resistance is a public health concern. That’s one of the reasons why we led the U.S. industry by voluntarily aligning our antibiotics policy with the FDA’s guidelines in 2015 — about 18 months before the federal requirement to cease using medically important antibiotics for growth promotion took effect.
Smithfield’s Antibiotics Task Force, a cross-functional group composed of employees from hog production, corporate affairs, food safety and quality, sales and marketing, discusses antibiotics issues from a U.S. perspective to find ways to maintain Smithfield’s responsible leadership position on antibiotics.
Antibiotics Use Policy
Antibiotics have improved the lives of millions of people and animals. The prudent use of antibiotics makes our food supply safer and enhances animal well-being by treating, controlling and preventing diseases, which can cause suffering and premature death in food animals. Misuse of antibiotics in all forms — whether in human or animal medicine or plant agriculture — may contribute to the emergence of resistant microorganisms. Therefore, Smithfield Foods is committed to the responsible and judicious use of antibiotics through the following practices:
- Preventive Management: Maintain a robust animal health management program overseen by veterinarians, which includes sound animal husbandry practices, preventive herd health examinations, vaccinations and proactive assessments of potential health threats.
- Veterinary Oversight: Provide veterinary oversight and consultation prior to selection and use of any antibiotics governed by prior written authorized or prescriptions, guided by extensive and regular diagnostic testing and analysis and targeted and appropriately timed for the specific disease of concern.
- Limited Use: Provide veterinary administration of antibiotics classified as important for treating human disease by the FDA only when necessary for animal health and food safety. There is no use of antibiotics classified as important for treating human disease by the FDA for feed efficiency and growth promotion purposes.
- Strict Compliance With U.S. Law: Meet or exceed all antimicrobial withdrawal times established by the FDA and the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank (FARAD). Antibiotics use is limited to those approved and labeled for animal use by the FDA and adhered to all applicable laws governing antibiotics.
- Recordkeeping and Reporting: Track and publicly report antibiotic use.
- Continuous Improvement and Research: Provide an on going commitment to research to identify new technologies that improve animal health and minimize antibiotic use.
This policy is based on Smithfield’s commitment to producing safe and wholesome meat products for its customers as well as the company’s continuing commitment to animal care. The policy will be reviewed on an annual basis.
Using antibiotics responsibly is an extremely complicated issue, and we want to help our stakeholders understand the nuances without oversimplifying the facts.
In the context of our industry, there are two kinds of antibiotics: those used both in human and animal health (medically important antibiotics), such as penicillin, for example, and those that are only used in animal health (nonmedically important antibiotics). We use both types of antibiotics, as authorized or prescribed by company veterinarians, to control, treat and prevent disease. We do not, however, use medically important antibiotics to promote growth or feed efficiency on farms.
In the United States, we use antibiotics to do the following:
- Control disease. We administer antibiotics to our animals for a limited period of time to reduce the chance of spreading a specific disease following exposure.
- Treat disease. We administer antibiotics to treat sick animals.
- Prevent disease. We administer antibiotics to healthy animals when they may be exposed to a particular disease that exists on our premises or is likely to occur.
- Promote growth. While we do not use medically important antibiotics to promote growth, we do use animal-only antibiotics for growth promotion and feed efficiency.
Our robust animal care health management program, overseen by staff veterinarians, unifies our commitment systemwide. It maintains judicious use of antibiotics to produce healthy animals and make our food supply safe. The independent animal suppliers we work with are encouraged to judiciously administer all medications as well. Our veterinarians ensure sound animal care practices and good nutrition, perform preventive health examinations, authorize or prescribe vaccines and antibiotics and are proactive in assessing potential health threats.
Employees who are responsible for administering antibiotics are thoroughly trained to follow all applicable laws, including regulations related to antibiotic usage policies and antibiotic withdrawal timelines, which specify the number of days that must pass after the last antibiotic treatment before the animal can enter the food supply.
Verifying the implementation of our policies on farms is paramount. We keep records to track use of antibiotics on farms and began voluntarily publicly reporting antibiotics usage in 2007. Updated information can be found in our latest sustainability report.
To ensure we’re always improving animal care and providing high-quality, safe food, we conduct research to identify new technologies and procedures that improve animal health while minimizing antibiotic use.
Hogs Raised Without Antibiotics
We raise a limited number of hogs without antibiotics at our farms in Poland in response to increased consumer demand. We conduct regular audits to certify our supply chain (feed mills, sow farms, nursery farms, finishing farms and production plants) is operating without the use of antibiotics.
Research Researchers at Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine have been using a $1.4 million Smithfield grant to investigate alternatives to antibiotics that enhance animal well-being and production efficiency in swine-rearing operations.
Every antibiotic we use in the United States is regulated by the FDA. We comply strictly with all antibiotic withdrawal timelines, as established by the USDA and FARAD.
Some countries, such as Japan, Russia and several nations in the EU, require farms and suppliers to make specific adjustments to those requirements. We always adhere to the guidelines of those countries with which we do business.
Domestically, the USDA monitors to ensure meat and poultry contain no antibiotic residues that exceed the safety levels established by federal agencies. The National Residue Program (NRP) tests animal tissues to monitor antibiotic residue. Research from the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System — a collaboration among the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the FDA and the USDA — shows that antibiotic resistance in animal products and foodborne diseases has been steady or declining in recent years.
The EU banned feeding antibiotics and related drugs to livestock for growth promotion purposes more than 10 years ago. All our company-owned and contract farms in Poland and Romania follow these strict guidelines and comply with all antibiotic withdrawal timelines. The antibiotics administration process is overseen and controlled by each country’s respective regulatory agencies.
Use and Preventive Management FAQs
All antibiotics used on our farms are preapproved by a licensed veterinarian, and a written authorization or prescription is also required before they are administered to any animal. Antibiotics are administered under veterinary supervision after careful evaluation of groups of pigs, herd history and diagnostic testing to determine the amount and type of medication necessary for the protection of pig health and welfare. This topic is complicated, so we have provided a few commonly asked questions about prevention and antibiotics:
What does prevention mean?
The FDA defines disease “prevention” as the “administration of an antimicrobial drug to animals, none of which are exhibiting clinical signs of disease, in a situation where disease is likely to occur if the drug is not administered.” The FDA regards “prevention” as a therapeutic and judicious application of antibiotics. We follow all regulations regarding the use of antibiotics to prevent disease in our international operations.
Why is prevention important?
Swine medicine is population and herd based, meaning veterinarians focus on diagnosing and addressing illnesses that threaten a herd rather than treatment of solitary animals. Treatment, control and prevention of disease operate on a range of therapies rather than distinct types of therapeutic use.
Many common bacteria are present in all swine herds. These can emerge to sicken animals when they are more vulnerable — such as when pigs are relocated to new barns and when viral infections such as Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) and influenza are present in a herd. At these vulnerable points, bacterial infections can quickly emerge and spread to other animals.
Preventing disease in pigs and in swine herds, rather than relying solely on disease treatment, stops unnecessary illness, suffering and mortality in pigs on farms. Forcing veterinarians to allow animals to become ill prior to instituting effective treatments will lead to poorer health outcomes and increase the total antibiotic use. This also increases the risk that the animal could enter the food supply while it is not completely healthy, which may increase the risk to public health.
What prevention is and is not at Smithfield?
Smithfield adheres to the FDA definition of prevention for our operations in the United States and to relevant regulations in Poland and Romania for our international operations. Our aim is to reduce disease carriers in our herd and to prevent our animals from contracting a disease, which would then require additional treatment and potentially more use of antibiotics. Prevention is not a “catchall” term disguising subtherapeutic uses of medically important antibiotics for production purposes.
What are some examples of preventive antibiotic use within Smithfield?
Antibiotic use is just one of the many illnessprevention strategies we employ to protect our herds. Vaccinations, strict biosecurity protocols and animal husbandry practices are among the first lines of defense in our herd health management plans. When antibiotics are used, we continually evaluate such usage based on diagnostics and testing. Examples of preventive use include the following:
- Administering antibiotics to most newborn pigs to reduce the incidence of umbilical abscesses and hernia development
- Administering antibiotics to pigs when they enter a site already diagnosed with a disease challenge such as swine dysentery
There is a lot of discussion surrounding the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. Here are the answers to a few of the most frequently asked questions on this topic.
Is the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture regulated?
Yes. The use of antibiotics in animal agriculture helps keep our food supply safe, since safe food comes from healthy animals. Also, by law, any person who administers antibiotics to animals used for food must adhere to the specific antibiotic’s withdrawal time. Withdrawal periods, which are established by the FDA and Polish and Romanian law, specify the number of days that must pass after the last antibiotic treatment before the animal can enter the food supply. Moreover, the FDA, the EU and the USDA have a coordinated surveillance program to help ensure compliance.
What are the main uses of antibiotics in animal agriculture?
Antibiotics are used in animal agriculture for four main reasons: to treat sick animals, to control disease, to prevent animals from becoming sick and to promote growth. There are also two main kinds of antibiotics: those used both in human and animal health (which some have termed “shared-use” or “medically important” antibiotics) and those only used in animal health. It is important to note that many of the antibiotics used in both human and animal health also happen to be the most effective in treating sick animals, which is why the ability to continue the use of these “shared-use” medicines in animal agriculture is so important.
Without these medicines, veterinarians would be unable to effectively prevent or control animal diseases. This increases the risk that the animal could enter our food supply while it is not completely healthy, which may increase the risk to public health. It also would undermine our veterinarians’ ability to protect animal health and prevent animals from suffering from preventable diseases.
Many chicken producers are going to stop using antibiotics altogether in poultry production. Why can’t you do the same in pork?
There are biological differences between birds and pigs with regard to the immune system and production process. For example, chickens have a very short production cycle (up to nine weeks) compared with pigs (five-and-a-half months), so they don’t have as long a time to be exposed to various disease agents. Even with this difference, it should be noted that only a part of the poultry supply is produced without antibiotics because it is more expensive, and when a flock requires antibiotic treatment, the chickens will be treated and sold as a conventionally raised product.
How are antibiotics used on farms?
We use several different categories of antibiotics, as authorized or prescribed by veterinarians, to control, treat and prevent disease. We do not, however, use medically important antibiotics, as defined in the United States, to promote growth or for feed efficiency with our animals. We led the industry in aligning our antibiotics policy with the FDA’s 2015 guidelines to cease using medically important antibiotics for animal growth promotion. We also continue to maintain compliance with local laws in Poland and Romania for our international operations.
All use of antibiotics is preapproved by a licensed veterinarian, and a written authorization or prescription also is required before antibiotics are administered to any animal. Our production management team is thoroughly trained to follow all applicable laws, including antibiotic usage policies and antibiotic withdrawal timelines.
Verifying diligence on farms is paramount. We keep records to track use of antibiotics and began voluntarily reporting antibiotics usage in 2007, the first U.S. hog producer to report this information.
Our collaboration with industry partners to develop a framework for antibiotic stewardship in animal production is ongoing. In addition, our research teams continue to work to understand how we can better use antibiotics when we do need to employ them to treat, control or prevent disease.
After more than a decade of transparency, we continue to be the only U.S. hog producer to publicly report antibiotic use on our farms. The amount of antibiotics we use varies from year to year based on a variety of factors, including weather conditions, inventory decisions, type of antibiotic used (feed, water or injection), the prevalence of diseases and active ingredient concentration. Notwithstanding these annual variations, our antibiotics usage has shown a downward trend over the last several years, which has been accomplished through innovative efforts on our farms, including improvements in our production processes and our use of vaccines.
(miligrams per pound of live weight used)
Biosecurity, or procedures to prevent the spread of disease on our farms, is another vital element to safeguard the health of our animals.
Our biosecurity policy and procedures are designed to prevent contaminants from being brought onto farms or transferred between farms by animals, personnel, vehicles and other equipment. We enhanced our practices across our supply chain in 2020 by launching our manual of standardized procedures as well as mandatory monthly training.
In the United States, we continued to collaborate with regulators, veterinarians and industry experts to protect against outbreaks of disease, such as African Swine Fever (ASF), a highly contagious swine disease that is nearly always fatal to pigs and for which there is currently no treatment or vaccine.
ASF does not infect people and, fortunately, it has never been found in the United States.* Romania, however, experienced an uptick in the number of cases of ASF concentrated in small, domestic backyard populations and wild boars. To mitigate the risk of infection on our farms, we invested more than $2 million in biosecurity measures in 2020, with another $2 million earmarked for 2021. We also maintained staff training modified to accommodate COVID-19 constraints, and we collaborated on a public information campaign with the country’s Pork Producers Association. As pork exports were restricted in Romania, we adapted our product lines to cater to the domestic market.
In Poland, we continued to focus on training across our supply chain, moving it online as we adapted to pandemic restrictions. We enhanced training for our truck drivers and independent farm suppliers beyond regulatory requirements to include animal welfare and biosecurity. We also launched a mobile application to facilitate remote biosecurity audits for the farms we contract with. A 2019 analysis revealed that wild boars represent a significant risk to the spread of ASF in Poland, so in 2020, we partnered with the Polish Hunting Association to promote increased wild boar hunting, particularly in areas near our commercial operations.
In addition, we undertake biosecurity audits at our international company-owned and contract farms, feed mills and across our transportation systems in Poland and Romania.
*Source: African Swine Fever, FDA.gov
Group Housing for Female Pigs
Our leadership in animal care is reflected in our successful transition to group housing systems globally. All pregnant female pigs on company-owned farms, including those in Poland, Romania and our joint ventures in Mexico, are housed in groups. Individual stalls are used for breeding to help ensure a sow’s successful conception, a practice supported by multiple scientific studies. We also use individual stalls during farrowing to protect a sow’s growing litter.
In addition to the efforts at company-owned farms, we recommend that all our contract sow growers in the United States complete a transition to group housing systems. While the conversion of contract sow growers’ facilities to group housing systems is being encouraged, it is not mandatory. We are supporting contract growers through the conversion process by providing guidance and expertise when requested and have seen an increase in the number of farms that have converted or that have expressed interest in converting. We believe a collaborative approach with contract growers provides the best likelihood of a successful transition to group housing for pregnant sows in these locations.
All our company-owned and contract farms in Poland and Romania follow strict EU guidelines that prohibit individual stalls except for a short period of the gestation period. Our international processing facilities only source pigs from farms that meet these sow housing requirements. We communicate this to suppliers and regularly monitor their performance.
We operate three poultry-growing farms and four hatcheries in Poland that provide chicks to approximately 300 independent growers. These poultry-growing farms use cage-free housing according to EU animal welfare and Polish animal welfare requirements.
Types of Group Housing Systems
At Smithfield Foods, our U.S. operations use three types of housing arrangements for pregnant pigs: individual stalls, free-access group pens and small group pens.
Individual stalls: Historically used by most of the pork industry, this system puts pregnant females in individual stalls for the duration of their pregnancies. This system allows for individual care, minimizes fighting between bred pigs and allows personnel to monitor each pregnancy more accurately. At Smithfield, individual stalls are used as part of our group housing system for breeding to help ensure a sow’s successful conception, a practice supported by multiple scientific studies. We also use individual stalls during farrowing to protect a sow’s growing litter.
Free-access group pens: In this system, a large group of pregnant females (between 30 and 40), once confirmed pregnant, has access to a common area for lounging and exercise as well as access to individual stalls for feeding.
Small group pens: This form of housing allows small numbers of gilts and sows (between six and 12) to be in a common open pen area once they are confirmed to be pregnant. These systems typically include individual feeding stations, which help to minimize aggression during feeding.
Take a virtual tour of a Smithfield Foods Sow Farm here.
Strong biosecurity on our farms, and throughout the industry, is not only vital to our business, it also supports our efforts to help feed a growing world population, provide jobs in our communities and sustain other businesses in our supply chain such as corn and soybean farming.
Smithfield Foods’ standard operating procedure covers the animal-production process at individual farms as well as the movement of vehicles, animals, personnel and equipment between farms. This policy is strictly enforced at all our company-owned and contract grower farms. To stay up to date and ensure our program remains strong and informed by current science, we monitor emerging and ongoing animal disease threats around the world and collaborate with relevant regulatory agencies and other industry experts.
Our biosecurity procedures focus on preventing contaminants from being brought onto farms; for example, employees and visitors must “shower in” and change into clean clothing before entering all sow farms and must also “shower out” prior to leaving. In addition, equipment and supplies delivered to sow farms, as well as vehicles, must be disinfected prior to being allowed inside the farm complex.
Humane Euthanasia and Slaughter
In recent years, we have been reviewing our operating procedures around euthanasia to ensure that we are using the most appropriate methods, based on the size and weight of the animals involved.
We have invested in research to understand which techniques cause the least pain and stress to the animals and to their handlers. For pigs weighing less than 65 pounds, we use either carbon dioxide (CO2), which causes painless loss of consciousness and death, or a device called a nonpenetrating captive bolt gun, which administers a controlled blow to the head without breaking the skin, instantaneously rendering the animal insensible and causing a quick death. For pigs larger than 65 pounds, we use a penetrating captive bolt gun that fires a retractable metal bolt into the brain, resulting in insensibility and death.
According to the AASV, humane methods will achieve the following:
- Minimize pain and distress to the pig during administration.
- Cause rapid loss of consciousness.
- Result in death quickly and consistently.
Smithfield Foods has led the U.S. pork industry in installing equipment to anesthetize pigs using CO2. Our facilities use the Butina® CO2 Backloader anesthetizer system, which allows pigs to move slowly, in small groups, minimizing stress for the animals and their handlers. CO2 anesthetizing is very effective and produces higher-quality meat than the older, single-file electrical stunning systems.
Our international pork operations also utilize CO2 anesthetizing, while poultry operations use both CO2 and electrical water-stunning methods. While we primarily use CO2 anesthetizing, we do use electrical stunning at one recently acquired sow harvest facility in Iowa. This method is recommended and published by the NAMI as an effective method to comply with federal humane slaughter regulations as well as promoting animal welfare and meat quality.
A highly contagious viral disease that is nearly always fatal to pigs and for which there is currently no treatment or vaccine
A male pig that has been castrated
An intact male that has not been castrated
An offensive odor or taste that can be evident during the cooking or eating of pork and comes from noncastrated male pigs once they reach puberty
An effort to make product labeling shorter and easier to understand for the consumer; the Ingredient Glossary provides more information about our ingredients
Private landowners and independent farmers who are paid under agreements that typically run for multiple years; Smithfield Hog Production assumes the market risks and owns the hogs, while the growers are protected from market fluctuations and receive a predictable income stream
A significant source of hogs for us and are important to our business, as they sell their animals directly to our processing facilities in the United States
A female pig that has not had a litter of piglets
A pig that has reached the target market weight (about 285 pounds) and is ready to be harvested
A feed supplement to help produce leaner meat more efficiently and is a safe and effective FDA-approved supplement
A female pig that has had a litter of piglets; also known as a mother pig
Where gilts and sows are bred, gestate and farrow litters; piglets grow to 15 pounds on this farm
The ability to trace our hogs back to the farm of origin
Where piglets are moved to grow to market weight after sow farms
Our Commitment to Animal Welfare
Our animal welfare systems, policies and procedures meet industrywide assurance requirements, which help provide stakeholders with reliable and verifiable systems to ensure animal well-being as well as pre-harvest food safety.
On our company farms in the United States, we adhere to the NPB’s PQA® Plus program guidelines, which guide the proper care of animals for optimal health and well-being. All drivers who transport and handle our animals, including external suppliers, are certified to the NPB’s TQA® requirements.
In 2020, we extended PVP certification to all our U.S. suppliers. PVP certification, a program of the USDA, helps ensure animals that come to our facilities have been raised where management systems address the welfare of animals. Together with our internal Animal Handling and Welfare Quality Management Plans, PVP certification provides our customers and consumers farm-to-table assurance in the animal welfare and safety of their food supply.
In Poland, 86 of our contract finishing farms and six of our feed mills are certified to the Global Standard for Good Agricultural Practice (GLOBALG.A.P.)that regulate animal welfare, production hygiene, biosecurity and other processes. Our farms and feed mills in Romania are certified to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 22000, ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS) 18001.
Audits provide an additional level of assurance. We undertake regular internal animal welfare audits across our supply chain in the United States and at our company-owned and contract sow farms in Poland. Our farms and facilities also are subject to annual third-party audits, which include:
- Common Swine Industry Audit (CSIA) at our U.S. company, contract and supplier farms
- Scored process-facility and transportations performance audits in line with the NAMI Recommended Animal Handling Guidelines at our U.S. processing facilities
- International Featured Standard (IFS) and the British Retail Consortium (BRC) Global Standard, global standards for food safety recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), for the suppliers in Poland and Romania from whom we purchase hogs as well as our processing facilities in Poland
However, a number of nations ban the use of ractopamine. China, Russia and the EU countries, for example, require third-party verification that pigs are not fed ractopamine. To meet this demand, we have removed ractopamine from feed for all animals supplied to our processing facilities. Several Smithfield plants now produce meat from pigs that have never received ractopamine. We still have facilities that receive pigs from other suppliers that use this product. We also have initiatives with our producers to let them participate in our “never fed ractopamine” program if that fits with their production capabilities.
Animal Care Spotlights
Our 2020 Sustainability Report outlines our efforts to make a lasting impact in our process and policies. It is a wide-reaching view of how we want to hold ourselves to the highest standards.Download the report