Belpork unites all the stakeholders of the pork pillar, from farm to fork, to create added value in Belgian pork. Belpork creates that added value using integrated chain monitoring. Liesbet Pluym, coordinator and quality adviser explains.
Belpork’s main objective is to create added value in the pork production chain. What is that added value and how is it created?
Liesbet Pluym: “Belpork creates added value in the pig pillar by amongst other things monitoring quality labels and setting up projects that reach beyond the chain. As Belpork we manage two labels: Certus (for fresh pork) and Meesterlyck (for cooked ham and dried ham). Both labels guarantee a quality, flavoursome product for the consumer that stands apart from standard pork and is competitive both on the domestic and the international markets. We achieve the difference in quality by acting on various issues such as animal welfare, (animal) health, food safety, traceability and meat quality. The accompanying specifications impose extra-statutory requirements with regard to these issues for each link in the pig chain. In this way, everyone in the chain does their bit to arrive at a high-quality product.
In addition, we support scientific projects and set up our own projects such to monitor the use of antibiotics. The result of these projects is then included in the specifications if relevant. Although, as Belpork, we are pioneers in setting up these projects for the pig chain, we always ensure that they can be expanded to other sectors. For example, in 2017 AB Register project was expanded to include the poultry sector and in 2018 the dairy sector so that our database is now also used for those two sectors.”
The projects that Belpork sets up or participates in, are they relevant for the consumer?
Liesbet Pluym: “Belpork always aims to play a leading role. We strive to set up projects that revolve around what is important to consumers— such as animal health, resistance to antibiotics, animal welfare and sustainability. Naturally this changes over time. When Belpork started back in 2000, food safety and traceability were very important issues for the consumer. The establishment of the Certus quality label and the development of an own tracking system, TRACY, followed from that. Later, resistance to antibiotics became a key theme and in 2014 Belpork set up the very first database to register the use of antibiotics in the pig sector: the AB Register. At the moment there are ongoing projects concerning animal welfare and animal health.”
How does Belpork’s herd health plan differ from the company veterinary support stipulated by law?
Liesbet Pluym: “The statutory company veterinary support stipulates that the company vet visits the company six times a year, so every two months. The vet visits the livestock farmer, discusses any problems and examines bottlenecks. Together with the livestock farmer, the vet discusses what action can be taken to resolve those problems and bottlenecks. However, this company veterinary support is not compulsory.
Belpork included the company veterinary support in the Certus specifications so that it is compulsory for the participating livestock farmers. Livestock farmers with high use of antibiotics are furthermore under the Certus specifications obliged to draw up a plan of approach. In this way, Belpork wants to accompany the companies to a higher level of health and a more responsible use of antibiotics. Taking appropriate action fast as soon as problems occur or too much use is made of antibiotics is a good step in the right direction but not enough. In addition, we want to tackle the company veterinary support in a more systematic way. That is why we are currently developing an online tool with an external partner. That tool can be used by livestock farmers and their vets to simply register the findings during a veterinary visit, award tasks, measure results and follow-up on developments. By offering a practical tool, we want to stimulate dialogue between the livestock farmer and their vet to thus proactively promote the health of the pigs at all the companies, regardless of the current level of use of antibiotics.”
The Welfare Initiative is a collaboration with the Bristol university. Why this initiative and collaboration?
Liesbet Pluym: “Animal welfare has already been included in Belpork’s quality scheme but we want to focus even more on this and develop it further. To this end, we evaluate whether the current animal welfare standards are still relevant and whether the specifications can be expanded with additional standards that are also practically feasible for the livestock farmers. We also carried out a screening of the various links in the chain with regard to animal welfare and we plan audits with inspectors who are specially trained in the area of animal welfare.
To this end we collaborate closely with Bristol university. Why? Because they have international experience with quality systems and are renowned in the area of welfare assessment at company level. The changes to our Certus specifications have been drafted in collaboration with them and they also trained the inspectors. This occurred on the basis of the principle of ‘train-the-trainer’. In this way, trained inspectors can pass on their knowledge to other inspectors and keep their own knowledge—up to par without staff from Bristol university having to come to Belgium each time.
The results of this project will be phased into the Certus quality scheme. The additional standards ensuing from the evaluation of the specifications and screening of the primary sector will be implemented on 1 January 2020. This amongst other things concerns registering the mortality of the various categories of animals, the evaluation of tail biting, the assessment of exploratory behaviour of the pigs and a compulsory culling policy for which Belpork will draw up a basic version. This project will continue into 2020 and will be further implemented in phases in the coming years.”