Quality assurance and approaches to ensuring the quality of agricultural and food products vary significantly from country to country.
In Denmark, where a co-operative system is the established model both for pig meat and other agricultural sectors, a high degree of uniformity exists throughout the production chain. A quality system operates within a framework, which is illustrated by the pyramid shown in this chart.
A quality baseline is established through EU legislation and EU Directives have to be implemented in all EU Member States. When these are translated into national legislation, there may be some room for local interpretation.
In Denmark, there are many instances where the bar for national legislation is set higher than the minimum standards required by the EU. For example, Danish legislation requires provision of sprinkling systems for pigs above 20 kg in indoor housing to enable pigs to regulate their body temperature in hot weather - this is not a requirement of EU legislation. Fully slatted flooring systems for weaners and finishers were banned in Denmark from 2015, but they are still permitted in most other Member States. In houses build after 2015 sows must be kept in groups from service until seven days before the expected date of farrowing. This counts for all houses from 2035. Since the mid-1980s, Danish farmers have been subject to strict environmental legislation and many Member States are still in the process of implementing measures that have been in force in Denmark for many years.
A further quality threshold is established by a series of voluntary industry agreements, where the Danish pig industry has decided to operate at a higher level than that required by national legislation. This has usually been agreed in collaboration with the Danish authorities. Examples include the national salmonella surveillance and control programme, which has been in place since the mid-1990s, and numerous initiatives taken in recent years to eliminate the unnecessary use of antibiotics.
At the top end of the pyramid, there are a number of specialist quality schemes where higher standards are laid down, usually in response to market requirements. Examples are the production of organic and free-range pig meat.
Another example is the Contract for Production of UK Pigs, developed in 1997 in order to meet the specific requirements of the UK market, where the individual confinement of pregnant sows was banned in 1999.
The DANISH quality system for pig meat covers the whole production chain and incorporates independent controls on the farm, during transport of pigs to the abattoir, arrival at the abattoir and during further processing, as shown in this chart.
All Danish pig herds are certified to the DANISH Product Standard or a higher level assurance scheme.
The DANISH Product Standard was launched in 2007, with the aim of ensuring that all Danish pig farms comply with legislation and industry agreements. Farms have an initial audit and they are audited a minimum of every third year. Around 3,000 audits take place each year and, in the case of 20% of the audits, a maximum of 48 hours’ notice is given. The scheme is independently audited and accredited to EN17065. There are detailed protocols to deal with any non-compliances.
The audit covers the following areas:
- Pig identification and traceability
- Herd health and use of medicine
- Treatment of sick and injured pigs
- Housing and equipment
- Outdoor production
- Feed and water provision
- Delivery of pigs
- Transport of live animals (own vehicles)
Farms are also required to complete a ‘self-audit’ on an annual basis. This covers a number of key welfare issues - more details are available here.
In addition, an annual welfare inspection programme is carried out by the DVFA to ensure compliance with Danish welfare legislation.
More details on the DVFA inspection programme are available here.
The Contract for UK Production is specifically designed to meet the requirements of customers in the UK market.
The main differences from the DANISH Product Standard are that farms must be audited every year and must meet the requirements of UK legislation – in particular, sows must not be kept individually confined from service until seven days before the expected date of farrowing. EU legislation currently allow sows to be kept in an individual pen for a maximum period of four weeks after service.
The independently audited DANISH Transport Standard was launched in 2010 to ensure that biosecurity protocols were being observed by livestock hauliers and related businesses, with particular reference to livestock vehicles, which have been carrying live hoofed animals, entering Denmark.
This measure was deemed necessary as part of an overall strategy to prevent animal diseases, such as African Swine Fever and Foot & Mouth Disease entering Denmark.
Abattoir and processing:
All Danish ‘export’ slaughterhouses and their associated cutting and boning departments are accredited to the Global Red Meat Standard (GRMS).
The GRMS was launched in 2006 and is a scheme specifically developed for the meat industry. Its main focus is product safety, targeting critical areas affecting the maintenance of hygiene standards. It also covers welfare issues affecting animals arriving at the abattoir and their handling prior to slaughter. The scope includes areas such as the fabric of the buildings, product handling procedures, traceability, management and training.
It covers all the processes involved in receiving animals for slaughter and their pre-slaughter handling, slaughtering and carcass dressing, cutting, deboning and further processing of the meat.
GRMS is ISO/IEC 17065 accredited and independently audited. An audit typically lasts two days and certified plants must be audited at least once a year and more frequently if any significant non-compliances are identified.
In October 2009, the GRMS received formal approval from the Global Food Safety Initiative, which benchmarks individual assurance schemes against a set of internationally recognised standards.