Antibiotic-free pork seeks niche


SALEM, Ohio – Ohio could be the next link in a national antibiotic-free pork producers’ program.

USDA is providing a $500,000 in-kind grant to National Farmers Organization to help train hog producers and spread the word about the endeavor.

The program, still lacking a snappy catch phrase, provides antibiotic-free pork to American consumers and lets producers reap as much as 8-10 cents per pound above commodity prices.

Ohio could be home to one of the program’s harvesting facilities.

Marketability. “In our minds, this is a real niche market,” said Mike Petzenhauser, NFO’s assistant pork director.

“A certain percentage of the population is extremely health conscious and willing to pay a premium for certain things,” he said.

Pork producers can raise pigs antibiotic-free from birth to market and receive financial rewards for their efforts.

The organization has pinpointed metropolitan markets on the East Coast, West Coast and even in the Midwest open to buying pork with the antibiotic-free guarantee.

Draw the line. Amidst concerns of food safety and mad cow disease, Petzenhauser said it’s only a matter of time until the commercial hog sector is forced to raise more natural pork.

To carry the natural label, USDA says meat can’t contain artificial ingredients or added color and must be only minimally processed.

Meat produced through the program will be considered natural.

Petzenhauser said while it’s entirely possible for ‘natural’ meats to have antibiotics, that’s where the NFO program draws the line.

Any animal raised under the program cannot be treated with hormones, antibiotics or feed additives.

Social issues. In addition, the program addresses social issues such as environmental safety and farrowing space.

Enrollees aren’t allowed the traditional farrowing crate and are required to use the European-style crate, which allows the sow to turn 360 degrees.

The crate results in overall healthier sows and piglets, Petzenhauser said.

Health challenges. Based on the current market matrix, it’s more realistic for producers to expect premiums of $7 per hundredweight on the hogs, Petzenhauser said.

That’s $17.50 on each 250-pounder marketed.

But the premiums can’t all be pocketed.

Petzenhauser said it costs $3-$5 more per hundredweight to raise antibiotic-free pork without relying on growth aids or other treatments.

Pre-sale. The antibiotic-free pork will be sold to retailers before National Farmers acquires it from producers.

“In essence, it’s forward contracting. Due to the premiums we offer, we need to sell the whole animal before we sell just the loins,” Petzenhauser said.

Other similar programs have a more narrow focus and are often left holding bellies, Boston butts and trimmings with nowhere to dump them, he said.

NFO staff members are in the process of meeting with end users to discuss more marketing ideas.

Buckeye bound? Staff are also meeting with harvesting facility operators across the country to expand producer opportunities.

A harvesting facility is where hog producers would truck their stock for slaughter.

Currently, the only enrolled facility is in Sioux Center, Iowa, according to Petzenhauser, but a potential site in north central Ohio is on the radar.

“Small guys can [participate in the program] as long as the logistics are feasible. If somebody from Ohio had 100 hogs, it probably wouldn’t make a lot of sense to pay to truck them to Iowa,” he said.

Big and small. But the program is designed for big and small producers alike.

“If 10 guys each had 100 hogs, that makes more sense economically” to band together and push the hogs down the line, he said.

Petzenhauser admits that Ohio isn’t currently at an advantage to participate in the program, but he looks for markets and harvest facilities to spread and grow.

“Is this alone going to make producers wealthy? Absolutely not. Commodity hogs have been at a loss for the past 6-8 years.

“We aren’t going to hit home runs, but we’ll add profitability to sustain each farm,” Petzenhauser said.

Interested producers should contact Petzenhauser at 800-247-2110.

(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at


Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!