When I’m shopping the meat case, I’m continually impressed by the quality of the pork chops on display, especially how uniform the pork is in color and size. This makes cooking faster and easier for weeknight meals.

Admittedly, it’s easy to take for granted how much work farmers do to ensure the quality, nutrition and safety of the pork I serve my family.

Genetic selection has a lot to do with the quality of today’s pork. For example, pigs today are much leaner than they were back in my grandparents' time, in response to consumer demand for lean meats.

However, Iowa farmers also understand that keeping pigs comfortable and as stress free as possible impacts overall pork quality, explains Jennie Greene, health and welfare specialist at Eichelberger Farms, a pork farm based in Wayland.

"For farmers, pigs are their livelihood, and they care about the pigs a lot,” Greene says.

“It’s not just a farmer raising a pig; there are a lot of checks and balances (in pork farming). There are many steps in place and so much we do to keep pigs healthy,” Greene says.

At Eichelberger Farms, Greene visits the hog barns regularly to ensure pigs receive the best care possible.

She walks through each barn to conduct what’s known as the common swine industry audit.

The audit, created by animal well-being experts and adopted by pork farmers and processors, confirms that caretakers are following the recommended best management practices to ensure pigs are healthy, comfortable and less stressed.

For the audit, Greene inspects the cleanliness of the barns and pigs. She also checks the overall environment (ventilation, temperature, access to food and water) in the barns.

“If pigs aren’t kept at a comfortable temperature, if it’s too hot or too cold, they won’t eat or drink normally. So we want to keep a comfortable environment,” Greene says.

The barns at Eichelberger Farms are equipped with automated systems that control the temperature, ventilation and feeders, Greene explains.

If there’s a problem in the barn, the automated system will send an alarm to the caretakers’ phone.

Also during the on-farm audit, Greene inspects the pigs to make sure they are healthy, injury-free and well-fed.

All caretakers at Eichelberger Farms are Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) certified and receive regular training on the latest recommended animal health and well-being best practices.

To help ensure food safety, farmers and animal caretakers’ keep records to track any medications given and the proper withdrawal times (or the length of time when medicine leaves the pig’s body) before the pigs can be marketed.

Farmers work closely with veterinarians to ensure they are following approved dosage and withdrawal guidelines when treating sick animals.

If a farm animal is given antibiotics, federal law requires that the animal must undergo a withdrawal period before it can be marketed.

“All pork is antibiotic-free, no matter the (food packaging) label,” Greene says.

Iowa farmers remain committed to continuous improvement and adopting the latest technology to make sure pigs are safe, comfortable and less stressed.

“Farmers are focused on how well the animal is treated, and consumers are driving this trend. They want to know that we (farmers) are doing our job, that we are caring about the well-being of animals,” Greene says.

To learn more about how Iowa farmers work to ensure meat quality, food safety and animal well-being, visit www.realfarmersrealfoodrealmeat.com.