December 04, 2023

Tackling pork production misconceptions

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Transparency is among the priorities of the Illinois Pork Producers Association in its efforts to promote the consumers’ preference for “the other white meat.”

“We want people to understand how transparent we are with what goes on in pork production. I know there can be some misconceptions out there and we work hard to dispel the rumors about what goes on behind closed doors in pork production,” said Lana Shovlin, IPPA communications director.

“We work hard to make sure our animals are safe, so we focus a lot on biosecurity. We did a farm tour this past summer, the first one I’ve been on since being with the Illinois Pork Producers, and it’s interesting to see the measures that are taken to make sure that the animals remain safe.

“We want to focus on foreign animal disease. We’re doing a lot to make sure that does not come over into the United States.”

Pork producers deal with a myriad of challenges that include keeping the pigs healthy and safe in the heat of summer and winter’s cold.

“I think a lot of people assume that because so much of what happens in pork production happens in a building and ‘behind closed doors’ that they think there’s something questionable going on there. That is not the case,” Shovlin said.

“What is happening there is pigs do not sweat so they can get overheated very easily and if they’re outside they’re exposed to the elements. Anyone who’s seen a pig knows they don’t have a lot of protection from the sun. They’re not covered in hair.

“Our farmers are working hard to make sure that the animals are protected from any type of weather. When it is hot, they make sure they’re constantly being misted with water and in a cool environment. They’re making sure their feed is regulated to exactly what they need. They have very comfortable living conditions. We keep them safe from predators.

“There’s a variety of very good reasons that they are kept in buildings, and anyone who’s been on a hog farm like that can tell you the pigs are comfortable. They’re able to move around. Their environment is clean and it’s a good place for them to be.”

Economic Driver

Illinois’ inventory of all hogs and pigs on Sept. 1 was 5.2 million head and ranked fourth in the nation in pork production with 1,600 hog farmers across the state.

Hog production and processing supports over 57,100 jobs. The total output of sales in Illinois generated from hog production, processing and related industries totals an estimated $13.8 billion.

Illinois hogs consume 210 million bushels of corn and 63 million bushels of soybeans.

“The pig numbers in Illinois have been really steady. Obviously, COVID caused some issues with pork production, but we’re recovering from that nicely,” Shovlin said.

Pandemic Challenges

During the middle of the pandemic in 2020, numerous meat processing facilities were closed due to the spread of COVID among employees. That put pork producers in a bind as they had nowhere to ship their pigs for processing.

“I was not working for the pork producers during that time. I’ve been here since February and just speaking to a few of our producers that I’ve gotten to know well since that time, hearing their stories about what they had to do,” Shovlin noted.

“There were a variety of things that went into play like having to alter the animal’s food to make sure they didn’t reach a certain weight limit. They all did a phenomenal job.

“The truth is pork producers care about their animals and they want to make sure they are providing people with the highest quality pork. So, when something like that happens, a global pandemic or any sort of foreign animal disease that can come through and really have a major impact on our industry, we obviously want to act fast. We want to make sure we are in the right place to be able to do that and have the right supply.”

Tom Doran

Tom C. Doran

Field Editor