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  • Real Pork Trust Consortium

Students Learn about Pork Industry Issues: Introducing the Real Pork Scholars

The Real Pork Trust Consortium (RPTC) is thrilled to collaborate with the National Pork Board to lead the way in developing a future scientific workforce prepared to work together across fields to solve some of the biggest issues facing the pork industry and address consumer concerns about pork production.

Led out of North Carolina State University, the Real Pork Scholars program was launched in Fall 2023. The program is made up of a group of graduate student scholars with interests that span across academic disciplines. Students are connected by a mutual interest in pursuing careers in the pork and animal industries. Nine scholars participated in this inaugural cohort, and their fields of study included: agricultural law, animal science, field epidemiology, immunobiology, swine infectious disease, swine nutrition, swine reproduction, sustainability, and veterinary preventative medicine. The scholars represented six universities including Drake University Law School, Iowa State University, Kansas State University, North Carolina State University, Ohio State University, and the University of Minnesota. 

Students working collaboratively at a table

During the inaugural semester, the Real Pork Scholars met virtually every other week to explore the We Care Ethical Principals established by the National Pork Board. Led by Dr. Todd See, the scholars heard each week from an expert on one of the six principles. The overarching learning goal for the semester was to understand the pork industry and the issues producers face. The We Care principles cross-cut RPTC focus areas, from consuming pork to raising pigs and caring for the planet. Seven speakers from a variety of backgrounds spoke with the scholars this semester.


Bob Ruth, President, National Pork Board 

Bob Ruth spoke with the scholars to launch the semester, setting the stage for the importance of the We Care Ethical Principles, highlighting the commitment of US Pork Producers to Real Pork – the shared goal of producing pork ethically, sustainably, and responsibly. 


Dr. Todd See, Professor and Department Head, NC State University 

Dr. Todd See hosted the first discussion into the We Care Ethical Principles, discussing food safety. This principle states that producers and the industry are committed to using management practices consistent with food safety standards, managing the health of herds on farm, and using technologies to minimize food safety threats. Dr. See’s discussion introduced the scholars to the Pork Quality Assurance Program (PQA), established in 1989. This program was implemented to educate and train producers in good management practices in the handling and use of animal health products. Dr. See discussed how PQA+, in its most recent update, incorporates all six We CareÒ Ethical Principles.  


Patrick Bane, Bane Family Pork 

Patrick Bane led the discussion for the principle of “Our People,” highlighting its role on his own family-operated farm in Illinois. Bane was selected as the 2018 America’s Pig Farmer of the Year, and serves as an advocate for the pork industry around the nation. The Our People principle demonstrates commitment to promoting health and safety, providing education and training around ethical principles and practices, and treating employees fairly and with respect. 


Dr. Mahmoud Sharara, Assistant Professor, NC State University 

Dr. Mahmoud Sharara talked with the scholars about the “Environment” principle. Dr. Sharara is an Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at NC State University. He took the opportunity with scholars to connect his research to the We Care Ethical Principles, discussing the importance of protecting the environment and the processes and monitoring that occurs on the farm – from soil and manure to water quality and emissions. Commitments within the Environment principle include managing manure as a resource, protecting air and water quality, enhancing soil health, and protecting the quality of natural resources. 


Steve Evans, VP Community Development, Smithfield 

Steve Evans took time to speak with the scholars about the “Our Community" principle. Evans’ role with Smithfield focuses on promoting their strategic vision for humane treatment of animals, environmental stewardship, and local community vitality. The “Our Community” principle maintains commitment to earning respect from communities, focusing on community trust, protecting the environment and public health, helping build stronger communities, and addressing community concerns. 


Dr. Anna Johnson, Professor, Iowa State University 

Dr. Anna Johnson is a Professor of Animal Sciences at Iowa State University and was previously the Director of Animal Welfare at the National Pork Board. Her research inquiry focuses on animal behavior and welfare. Dr. Johnson spoke with the scholars about the principle of “Animal Wellbeing” – highlighting that safe food begins with healthy animals and quality care. Dr. Johnson specifically discussed gestation crates and sow housing, latest research on Pork Quality Assurance Plus (PQA+) and animal welfare practices, and the future of animal welfare practices in the pork industry. 


Dr. Sid Thakur, Director, Global One Health, NC State University 

Dr. Sid Thakur spoke with scholars about the last We Care Ethical Principle, “Public Health.” Dr. Thakur drew upon his research, focused on filling critical knowledge gaps around antimicrobial resistant bacterial foodborne pathogens for animals, humans, and the environment. Commitments within this principle include using practices consistent with food safety standards, managing the use of animal health products, and managing manure and air quality. 


After each lecture, the scholars participated in Q&As with each speaker, drawing on their own experiences in their fields of study to learn more and connect to their professional aspirations. The goal of the Real Pork Scholars program is to expose scholars to interdisciplinary learning opportunities as well as enhance their professional connections across the pork industry (from research to practice). In the coming semester, scholars will have an opportunity to meet in-person to further expand their professional networks. 


During the spring 2024 semester, the Real Pork Scholars will transition to learning more about science communication and its role in disseminating evidence-based and trustworthy information. The new curriculum will be led by Dr. Katie Sanders, an Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist of Food Systems Communication at North Carolina State University. Dr. Sanders’ role will be to expand the communication capacities of the next generation of subject matter experts in the pork industry. Stay tuned for future updates here on the RPTC blog. 



Thank you to Chelsey Van Genderen, Industry Relations Manager, National Pork Board, for supporting this program and helping its launch in the first year. We also want to thank all speakers who visited with the scholars this year and shared their time. Finally, thank you to all our scholars who diligently participated and asked fantastic questions, demonstrating their commitment to becoming the next generation of pork industry leaders.  


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