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Introduction to Organ Meats

When it comes to promoting sustainability in the food industry, one approach that has been gaining attention isn’t new. The consumption of organ meats – commonly known as offal – is being rediscovered for its health and environmental benefits. At SSR, we believe in using the whole animal when it comes time to harvest, and producing organ meat for human consumption is another way we encourage sustainability and responsibility in the pork industry.

A Rediscovery of an Old Way of Eating

While many Western diets prefer the consumption of muscle meat to organ meat, the consumption of offal has been around since humanity began to eat meat. Since meat wasn’t as plentiful as it is today, it was common for meat eaters to use every part of the animal to avoid waste. It is only in the past 50 years that the consumption of organ meat has decreased to the point of it not being considered edible or delicious in Western diets. However, the consumption of organ meat still has a strong tradition in many cultures around the globe, viewing organ meats as the most prized portions and as delicacies.

Benefits of Organ Meats

The benefits of consuming animal organs are many, and eating offal is seen as a smart way to supplement typical meat consumption. Here are three main reasons why many restaurants and markets are putting organ meats back on the menu.

Sustainability. The recent emphasis on “nose to tail” eating helps to eliminate food waste and reduce carbon emissions in the production of meat.

High Nutritional Value. While muscle meat is high in protein, organ meats offer the highest concentration of vitamins, minerals and amino acids in natural food. In some cuts, organ meat can offer higher amounts of protein than muscle meat.

• Cost Effective. Organ meat is considerably cheaper to buy than other typical cuts of meat.

Cooking with Organ Meats

Including organ meats once or twice a week into the typical Western diet is enough to take advantage of the nutritional benefits. For those looking for easy ways to serve offal, here are a few simple solutions:

• Add it into ground meat (burgers, meatballs, taco meat, etc.)

• Add to stews, soups or sauces

• Include in sausages

• Liver pate

Many different food companies are trying to create meats that are more socially responsible and taste great. While these new innovations can help everyone find a choice that fits their lifestyle, let’s not forget the simple, natural solution (and benefits) of choosing organ meats

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Porcine Materials and the Pet Industry

 

Porcine tissues and other pig co-products have various applications in the creation of industrial,

commercial and medical products. Another area where pig materials are a huge benefit is the pet

industry. The use of porcine materials for pet food and supplements helps increase the usage of the pig

after it has been harvested for human consumption. Since a little over half a pig’s total weight is used for

human consumption, the rest of the materials are then harvested and processed to maximize its use and

reduce waste.

 

Even though muscle meat is the most popular type of food harvested for human consumption, pig

byproducts are still nutritious and provide the needed protein, vitamins, minerals and amino acids

essential in pet food. Since dogs and cats are essentially carnivorous, they need a diet that mimics the

nutrients that they would typically get in the wild.

 

Complete Pet Food

In the pet industry, food can only be labeled as complete if it has all the required nutrients to provide an

animal with a balanced diet. Because of this, the pet food industry sources their ingredients from a wide

range of meats and grains to meet the specific needs of companion animals. Porcine materials provide

high levels of vitamins and minerals, and organ meat that isn’t typically served in a Western diet are

essential in pet food for their nutritional value.

 

Complementary Pet Food

Complementary pet foods are designed to be only part of an animal’s diet and doesn’t provide all the

essential nutrition for a pet. However, these complementary pet foods can give pets extra enjoyment in

flavors and textures and are often used as treats. Porcine materials are again used in pet treats,

primarily in products like chews and rawhide alternatives. With pet treats, pig products are preferred

when making rawhide alternatives because pig skin is easier to chew and digest.

 

Pet Wellness

As porcine tissues and other materials are used to create medicines and supplements for human health

and wellness, these same ingredients are used to increase the quality of life for pets. As pet owners

move their animals to alternative diets like raw, vegan or organic, pet supplements become more

important when ensuring pets get the balanced nutrition they need. Porcine materials are used to make

these supplemental vitamins and medications with various organs, tissues, glands and fluids.

Before the development of the pet food industry, many animals were simply fed table scraps and any

other extras that needed to be consumed. Now, the pet food industry improves the lives of companion

animals by giving nutritionally balanced meals treats. Many of these ingredients come from porcine

materials, and this helps to reduce waste and promote sustainability.

 

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MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: NOAH RUH, CO-OP

 

SSR is the premier supplier of porcine materials for a variety of industries, ranging from medical

and pharmaceutical to pet food. We specialize in supplying customized tissue to meet our

customers’ specifications.

 

At SSR, we pride ourselves in the superior quality of our products and the amount of care we give

our customers. Our success comes from our team members, who continually strive to do the best

work possible. We’re excited to put a spotlight on Noah Ruh.

 

A Change in Scenery

An Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin resident, University of Wisconsin-Madison student, and Johnsonville

sausage enthusiast, Noah was excited to intern with SSR during the Summer of 2020. Due to the

COVID-19 virus, we all needed to adapt to the changing landscape, and Noah’s internship

broadened to a co-op at our Watertown facility for the Spring and Summer of 2021, which Noah

accepted with gratitude.

 

Preparing for the Future

Noah is currently studying Biomedical Engineering and uses what he has learned in school to help

him succeed with SSR. His design and biology background have helped him take in all that he can.

He is excited to be able to work with the tissue that SSR collects and learn more about the medical

device supply chain. Along with his biology interests Noah is learning about the sale of some SSR

products and the importance of delivering quality porcine materials to SSR customers.

 

More than a Student

Although Noah is still in school, he gets a different kind of education at SSR. “I’ve had the

opportunity to learn new processes and teach members how to get the best quality products in the

shortest time. This allows us to deliver on the promises we make to customers and helps me

develop myself,” says Noah. He plans to use these valuable skills for the rest of his time with SSR

and in school.

 

A Well-Oiled Machine

When asked about what people should know about what Noah does at SSR he replied, “I work with

Alisa (see Alisa’s Member Spotlight blog here) and the harvest team to ensure that the products we

collect are of the best quality possible and are collected with efficiency and care. It is important to

me and the team that each item we send to customers is harvested on time and is the best that it

can be.”

 

If you have any other questions about our products, services or partnership opportunities, please contact Jessica Freeman at jfreeman@ssr-solutions.com or Lauren Sammel at LSammel@ssr-solutions.com.

 

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INTRODUCING THE NEW SSR CUSTOMIZATION CENTER

As science and technology move towards greater innovations and upgrades, the industries that support them must keep up with the changing needs and demands to help companies create the products and medicines that continue to improve lives. In accordance with our mission to create solutions that add value for our customers, contribute to the health and well-being of humans and animals, and improve environmental sustainability, we’re excited to announce our new Customization Center in our Watertown, WI facility!

This facility, which was completed at the end of 2020, is dedicated for further processing tissues for the medical and life science industries. This addition enhances our processing and preparation capabilities to continue providing exceptional service and quality products to our customers in an ever-evolving field. Many products going to medical device manufacturing or research require additional steps after being removed from the harvest line to prepare them for our customers.

Our Customization Center allows us to expand our capabilities to offer unique products to meet our customers’ exact specifications. The additions made in our Customization Center help improve overall production workflow with improved processing techniques.

 

Customization Center Additions

• new flooring

• electrical drops and water systems

• additional freezing capabilities

• multiple workstations

• packaging station

 

Optimized Tasks

• separating tissue

• cleaning membranes

• extracting materials

• preparing treatment solutions

• packaging

• product cold storage

 

SSR focuses on lasting partnerships with our customers to address their needs and strives to be the global leader in supplying reliable porcine materials and co-products. Our customer-focused approach to new product development ensures that we deliver consistent, high-quality, and customized products.

 

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Porcine Materials in Wound Healing

Porcine tissues and other pig co-products are used in various medical and scientific fields to further technological innovations and help improve people’s lives. Pigs are a perfect candidate for biomedical research because there are many similarities between pigs and humans that help increase the useability and success rates for new medical devices and procedures.

 

The Challenges of Wound Healing

When we get a cut or a burn, our bodies go through a complex process of healing the wound. Various biological systems are involved to protect the wound site, fight infections and generate new skin cells. For serious dermal injuries like large burns or deep wounds, extra assistance is needed to help the wound heal and minimize scarring.

Skin grafts are a traditional means of wound healing but can be a challenge. Allografts – tissue grafts where donor and recipient are of the same species – like other donor organs, can be costly and in low supply. Because of these challenges, researchers in fields like regenerative medicine are looking for other alternatives to treat wounds.

 

Benefits of Porcine Tissue in Wound Healing

In wound healing, the skin of a pig is better suited for study than other animals since a pig’s skin behaves much like human skin.

  • Composed of the same three layers: epidermis, dermis, hypodermis
  • Thickness of pig skin and human skin is similar
  • Porcine collagen and elastin are made up of similar biochemicals
  • Pig skin protects the body and organs in a similar way to human skin

Because of these similarities, porcine tissues and materials are being used in innovative ways to meet the challenges of traditional wound healing procedures:

Models for new treatment innovations.

Pig skin is used to study new ways to treat wounds because of its similarities with human skin. Pig skin is a tissue model that is plentiful and versatile to be used in a wide range of clinical scenarios to treat various types of injuries.

 

Use of xenografts.

Where allografts can provide challenges of supply, porcine xenografts (tissue grafts where donor and recipient are of different species) are an alternative that works just as well with no noticeable differences with human allografts. Also, porcine materials for wound healing can be genetically modified to reduce issues of rejection with the recipient.

 

Use of porcine ECMs for faster healing.

Porcine materials are being used in the treatment of wounds to improve the healing process. Porcine ECMs (extracellular matrix) can be used in conjunction with xenografts or as a gel to accelerate tissue regeneration and wound healing. ECMs are essentially building blocks that doctors can use to bioengineer other tissues and internal structures that can be used in tissue grafting and other regenerative therapies.

The use and harvest of pig co-products help to eliminate waste when harvesting pigs for food and allows for a more sustainable approach to agriculture. As scientists look for new ways to heal others and improve current technologies, the use of porcine tissues and materials remain an important part in creating new innovations.

 

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Animal Welfare, Part IIIB

Starting in June 2020, we published a three-part interview with Ben Peyer, Director of Animal Welfare at Johnsonville.  Part I covered animal welfare in general, Part II focused on animal welfare in agriculture, and Part III narrowed the discussion further to animal welfare work at Johnsonville.  Included in Part III was a question about whether researchers who work with animal tissues should pay attention to the sort of life that animal lived.  The short answer (“not particularly”) wasn’t interesting enough to include then, but the long answer (below) was, we thought, worth saving for later.

 

Q: Should it matter to researchers that study/use animal tissues how the animal was treated?

A: There are practical reasons why researchers in certain contexts might want to ensure that the animals from which their tissues originate are treated well, but I don’t think there is a universal argument for animal welfare to matter more to tissue-researchers than it does to a person who eats meat.

The story is different for research involving live animals, however, which may have implications for tissue-researchers, meat eaters, and sausage companies over the next decade.  The argument used to justify live animal research – that the benefits (to humans, mostly) outweigh the harms (to animals) in all but extreme cases – is being critically examined at research institutions everywhere.  As a member of the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine’s Animal Care and Use Committee, I have seen some of this evolution first-hand.

It has become difficult to prove that most research involving sentient animals delivers a concrete benefit.  The subjective experience of the animal can have large and unpredictable effects on experimental outcomes; the very fact of an animal’s sentience can make research outcomes unreliable.  Consider as an example the case of labs that have vibrations coming from somewhere outside, with frequencies too high or too low for people to hear.  These sorts of vibrations don’t directly impact something like the immune response of a mouse, as far as I know, but can affect a mouse’s subjective well-being, which in turn can have unpredictable effects on immune response.

It’s not that research involving animals can’t be valuable.  It very often is.  The problem is that research involving animals is unpredictably valuable.

Likewise, the list of things that are acknowledged as genuinely harmful to animals in the course of live animal research is expanding quickly.  It wasn’t so long ago that a pain researcher could be accused of doing “bad science” if they treated the pain they were inflicting on their study subjects!  Today, lab animals must be given care that is appropriate for that animal and safeguards their overall well-being.  Pain must be avoided, or treated, except in rare cases that are given strict oversight, and animals must live in social environments that are appropriate for that species.   

As the expected benefit of animal research falls, and the amount of harm we recognize increases, the justification for using animals in research becomes less and less easily met.  One way around this is the so-called “assent” criterion, which says that research subjects must choose to take part in any study.  Any research involving Chimpanzees in the US (which is limited in any case) requires assent; in Canada, they are currently considering extending a similar requirement to all sentient animals, which includes all vertebrates and cephalopods, at least.  Live animal research will look very different a decade from now than it does today.

Even taken to extremes, animal research won’t just end as a result of more rigorous accounting of benefits and harms.  But consider: when every lab mouse (and rat and zebrafish) is given “a life worth living” – which includes avoiding or treating pain and distress, promoting positive welfare states, providing physical and social environments that allow them to flourish, and for whom death is considered a harm that requires justification in terms of societal benefits – what is the argument to deny the same to pigs who are being grown for food?  What is the argument for treating two members of the same litter of pigs differently solely because one is taken to be part of a research protocol while the other stays on the farm?

When these trends from within the animal research community gain traction with either lawmakers or consumers, the meat industry will be forced to undergo a massive change.  However daunting this overhaul – a change in the basic orientation of the industry, from efficiency-seeking to animal-centric – may seem, the industry has driven change of this magnitude before.  Starting in earnest about 70 years ago, the agriculture industry’s collective creative energies have been focused on improved productivity, with amazing results: chickens grow twice as large with half as much food today compared to 1950; dairy cows saw the same four-fold productivity increase over the same period, from 5k to 21k lbs of milk per year; since 1968, the number of sows in the US has gone slightly down but the number of pigs they produce has increased by half.

My belief, and my sincere hope, is that this incredible capacity for innovation can be redirected in an animal-centric direction, to deliver on our collective obligation to give animals the great lives they deserve.

¹ What does this mean for the research into telomeres as biomarkers of cumulative well-being?  The basic research Johnsonville is funding is aimed at identifying an indicator of subjective well-being, so downstream effects of poor subjective well-being (including any positive-feedback loops, for example, if poor subjective well-being causes a weakened immune system which in turn causes even worse subjective well-being) wouldn’t invalidate any results.  Future applied research, which would answer questions about whether specific experiences cause poor welfare, will need to be carefully designed and executed in order to produce valid results.  The cause of poor welfare isn’t of primary importance; whatever happens to be causing suffering, it’s the suffering that matters.  So we believe research into biomarkers of well-being is insulated from the broader concerns about the value of research involving live animals.  See Part III of the Animal Welfare series for details.

 

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Animal Welfare, Part III

This is the third and final installment in our Q&A series with Johnsonville’s Director of Animal Welfare, Ben Peyer. In Part III, we talk to Ben about the work Johnsonville is doing to improve animal welfare, and what that work means for customers of SSR.

 

Q: How is animal well-being addressed in the harvesting of porcine tissues?

A: Some of our SSR customers have specific requirements for how those animals are to be raised, their genetic makeup, what they’re fed, and what veterinary care they’re given.  The SSR team diligently makes sure those requirements are met.  

I wrote in Part I of this series that “all animals are within the scope of our moral concern.”  It follows that, other than customer-driven provenance requirements, we don’t treat any animals differently based on where they end up or what channel they are sold through.  

 

Q: What are ways that Johnsonville is working to improve animals’ subjective experiences?

A: Our ability to improve the lives of animals comes down to information and incentives.  What information does Johnsonville have that can help our upstream supply partners do better?  How do current incentive systems impact animal care, and how can we tweak these incentives to send animal-centric market signals?  Information and incentives are both levers we can use, separately or together, to improve the lives that our animals lead.  The information to which we have access is orders of magnitude more interesting and helpful than what the industry has historically asked us to share, and we’re exploiting this realization to create better processes to care for animals.

Much of our day-to-day attention gets paid to helping our suppliers manage transportation of animals from their facilities to ours.  Safe animal transport requires planning, diligence, and attention to detail.  Through a combination of internal collaboration and communication, building tools that allow our members to work directly with suppliers to avoid potentially dangerous weather, and comprehensive performance reporting to our suppliers, we’ve built a process that our suppliers tell us is the best in the industry. 

Another nice example is our work to use thermal and spatial cameras in our harvest plants to develop a comprehensive understanding of the condition of each animal that comes to our facilities.  The meatpacking industry has, in recent years, clocked that most extant welfare issues caused on the farm can be efficiently identified and accounted for at the abattoir¹. 

¹ Temple Grandin wrote a good overview, available here https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meatsci.2017.05.004

 

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The Science of Success: Customer Service

At SSR (Sustainable Swine Resources), we’re proud to have a balanced outlook, combining advanced scientific knowledge with an old school work ethic. As one of our pillars of success, customer service motivates everything we do. Pete Whyte, Sales Manager at SSR, shares ideas on the growth and impact of our customer service.

Unique from Start to Finish

As a division of Johnsonville, we have a strong and loyal sow supply network with a focus on animal welfare. Our customizable approach to business development sets us apart from our competition. We produce high quality porcine products by combining slower line speeds with our highly skilled team members. This pride in our products is readily seen with our customers—we want them to experience the very best. 

Passionate About Products

Porcine materials help save lives, feed the world, and advances knowledge. We’re always looking for new and unique ways to use porcine materials, and we want to share those benefits and innovations with current and future customers. Our dedication to providing customers with responsibly sourced products drives us to ensure animals are treated humanely and not wasted. Every sow we process is utilized 100%.

Growing with Customers

When it comes to our customers, we take pride in exceeding expectations. Our customers have very exact product needs and specifications. Collaboration is key to aligning customer needs with our capabilities to provide the right products and services. Our processing facilities are equipped to produce customized products to meet customer demand.

However, being a supplier of porcine materials isn’t enough. We provide resources and problem-solving capabilities that ensure the success of our customers. Our knowledge and expertise help customers develop new products. We become our customers’ most important supplier by being innovative and bringing them ideas they can use in their own business. By becoming an active participant in our customers’ business, we have been able to develop very longstanding and loyal relationships.

What do potential customers need to know about partnering with SSR?

You won’t find a more passionate, knowledgeable, and professional group to work with! Our products help save lives and feed the world and we love that aspect of our jobs. We listen and we work hard to provide the porcine solutions our customers need, and we have fun doing it!

 

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Our Commitment to Sustainability

 

Now, more than any other time in history, sustainability in the food industry is seen as an important

means to help future generations to flourish. At SSR, sustainability is at the heart of what we do. Our

products and services help promote meat industry sustainability and reflects a mindset and way of life

that views the planet’s resources as precious and finds ways to make the most out of what has been

given to us.

 

In the pork industry, our harvesting and development of porcine tissues and materials increase the

effective utilization of materials deemed inedible by American palates. Rather than letting almost 50%

of an animal go to waste, we take the remaining animal tissue and process them to be used across many

essential industries. Our work reduces waste, promotes food industry sustainability, and aids scientific

and medical advances.

 

Our connection to responsible, meat industry sustainability practices is what drives us to new

innovations and further success. These core beliefs are essential to our identity and motivate us to

protect our planet’s resources while improving the lives of humans and animals.

 

Create the best products harvested by the best people.

As part of Johnsonville, LLC, we are the largest supplier of sow co-products in the USA. Our supply

networks help us meet customer demands while keeping the integrity of our products. The farms we

connect with understand the importance of quality and know that animals treated properly give the

best results. Our quality procedures meet or exceed industry and regulatory standards. We also make

sure that our employees are trained and educated in best practices that ensure the positive treatment

of animals. Simply put, anything that goes against the humane treatment of animals is not tolerated.

 

Be responsible stewards of our animals.

Our knowledge and expertise in the swine industry give us an advantage to use our influence and

business practices to directly benefit the responsible treatment of animals. As an animal welfare

advocate, we help to ensure the proper treatment of animals throughout their entire lifecycle. We

continue to invest in the research and development of improved quality standards and validation

methods that help guarantee the best treatment of our animals.

 

Reduce waste by efficient harvesting.

We believe in constant exploration and innovation to find new ways to increase the full use of an animal

in the creation of porcine tissue and materials. Not only do we strive to make our harvest practices more

efficient, but we understand the importance of meat industry sustainability and make sure that our

operating procedures have as little impact to the environment as possible. We ensure full utility of the

animal by working in partnership with customers who utilize essential porcine materials and pig co-

products for a variety of industries.

 

Improve the lives of humans and animals using porcine materials.

Porcine materials and pig co-products have a wide range of benefits with industrial, educational,

medical and scientific applications. We believe that the animal tissues we produce help improve and

prolong human lives, as well as feed and advance the health and well-being of other animals.

 

Enrich professional communities through collaboration and innovation.

We actively seek out partnerships with other companies that create new products with what many view

as unavoidable waste. We understand that our relationships help improve the communities we serve,

and our work with industry leaders, partners, and clients is used to increase sustainable efficiency and

improve quality of life.

 

Exceed customer expectation and satisfaction.

We focus on lasting partnerships with our customers to address their needs and strive to be the global

leader in supplying reliable porcine materials and pig co-products. We work closely with our customers

to design and deliver high-quality, customized materials that consistently meet their requirements and

standard operating procedures. Our values are reflected in our commitment to the success of our clients

and strong dedication to sustainability and animal welfare.

 

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Animal Welfare, Part II

 

Below is the second of a 3-part series of interviews with Ben Peyer, Director of Animal Welfare at Johnsonville, the parent company of SSR.  In this installment, we cover two big topics: pregnant sow housing and whether raising animals for food can be compatible with high animal well-being.

 

Q: Why do you think some animals get more attention in animal welfare issues than others (farms animals vs. insects vs. fish)?

 

A: It’s a combination of our intellectual belief about an animal’s capacity to suffer and our emotional connections with those animals.  Let’s look at two examples of animals that aren’t usually raised for food: dogs (on the one hand) and fruit flies (on the other).  Anyone who has had a dog as a companion has no problem understanding their dog’s state of mind.  Dogs are what they are because they understand us and make themselves understood by us.  In the same way, modern humans have evolved to understand, and to be understood by, dogs.  So we humans know for sure that dogs can suffer, and when a dog is suffering it affects us.  The disgust most people feel if they see or imagine a dog being abused is a sensory presence, like pain, rather than an emotion like sadness.

 

To contrast, fruit flies are inscrutable.  It’s certainly not obvious, from a scientific perspective, that fruit flies have the sorts of conscious experiences that could be thought of as suffering.  And if I try to empathize with a fruit fly, I can’t quite get there; there’s an empty spot in my mind where I tried to put that idea.

 

These are extreme examples that help clarify the attributes that matter.  Farm animals have their places on that same spectrum.  Pigs, who are like dogs in important ways, will – all things equal – get the most attention.  Crickets, who are raised for food in not-insignificant numbers, fall on the other end of the spectrum; their care and well-being get very little attention.

 

In recent years, animal advocacy groups have embraced the intellectual part of the equation by explicitly rejecting empathy as a criterion for choosing where to work.  As a result, much of their attention has moved to fish, who are difficult to empathize with but are raised and slaughtered in huge numbers without any thought given to their subjective well-being.  

 

Q: What are the most important animal welfare topics in the swine industry, and how is the industry addressing these concerns?

 

A: The biggest issues in swine welfare are pregnant sow housing and so-called “routine mutilations” like castration and tail docking, which are typically performed without pain relief.  There are other issues, but these are the big ones.  The American Veterinary Medical Association has good summaries of these and other welfare concerns on its website.

 

Until the late 1970s, most sows were housed together in pens.  Pigs are social animals (like humans) but (also like humans) this doesn’t mean they’re always polite to one another. Conflicts over social hierarchy, food, and the best resting spots can make pens dangerous places to be, especially for those sows at the bottom of the social hierarchy, who are often injured, malnourished, and chronically stressed.  Keeping sows in groups can also make providing individual care difficult.  Moving sows to gestation stalls – individual pens, about 2.5 by 7 feet – is a way to avoid these problems and improve productivity, so the industry transitioned away from group housing.  By the early 2000’s, more than 90% of pregnant sows were kept in gestation stalls.

 

The higher productivity came at a serious cost: sows simply cannot have high subjective well-being while confined in a pen too small to allow any real movement, social interaction, or other behaviors central to pig-ness.  Because close confinement is what creates the “benefits” of gestation stalls, there is no way to change stalls in a way that solves the welfare problems they create.

 

Improvements to traditional group housing are available, however.  Conflict over social hierarchy can be minimized by keeping the same group of sows together for as long as possible.  Conflict over food can be minimized by practices that guarantee each animal will have access to their own rations, while at the same time allowing workers to care for individual sows.  And because wall space is prized – sows like having something to lean against, apparently – different pen configurations offer benefits here as well.  

 

The call to switch from gestation stalls to animal-friendly versions of group housing has been driven mostly from outside the industry – activist groups and consumers – and has met determined resistance.  Today, about 30% of all sows are raised in modern group housing (or better) systems, despite widespread commitments by retailers and meat companies to be fully transitioned away from gestation stalls by 2025 or earlier.    

 

No housing system is perfect, but gestation stalls are irredeemably flawed and cannot produce absolutely high welfare.  Accordingly, in 2013, Johnsonville publicly committed to remove gestation-stalls from its supply chain by 2025.  More recently, Johnsonville told its suppliers that by 2022 we would provide gestation-stall-free products to any customer who asks for them.  A cornerstone of Johnsonville’s success is having the “Highest Impact on Customer Success”, and helping our customers keep their promises to consumers while promoting better animal welfare is an obvious way to do that.

 

Q: Does raising animals for food go against animal welfare? 

 

A: I’m an animal welfare activist who works for a meat company, so I think about this every day.  Whether or not death is a welfare issue – I think it isn’t – there is no question that suffering is bad, and that it is immoral to cause suffering when other choices are available.  

 

I don’t expect to convince anybody to change their mind about whether death is harmful for the thing that died, so I won’t present my argument that says it isn’t.  Reasonable people can disagree on this topic, especially when the very capacity to be reasonable has evolved to keep us alive, which if you think about it makes it unlikely that we can have unbiased thoughts about whether staying alive is good for us.  

 

I will argue, however, that death should not be included in a tally of whether a certain way of getting food is good or bad.  Trees and grasses and the like – autotrophs – “eat” the sun and the air and need not truck with death.  We humans are heterotrophs, which means we cannot just conjure up our own food out of thin air.  We must eat a (currently or formerly) living organism in order to extend our own lives.  

 

If we cannot avoid causing the death of something in order for us to eat (and live), the only moral difference between ways to eat must be about how our food is produced, in this context, the quality of life our food enjoyed while it was alive.  Has your apple lived a good life (for an apple)?  Great.  Has the pig that came to be your pork chop lived a good pig life, recognized by her caretakers as a being with intrinsic value, and respected as such?  Fine.  I personally see no moral difference between an apple that lived a good apple-life and a pig that lived a good pig-life that convinces me we should prefer to eat the apple.  (If you’re thinking that it’s much more difficult to provide a good pig-life to a pig than a good apple-life for an apple, I agree.  I eat apples but don’t rule out eating pigs.)

 

Death is not an animal welfare issue because animal welfare is about how animals feel.  It is perfectly consistent with high levels of animal welfare for farm animals to be raised with compassion and respect, to be provided with the sorts of food, environment, and companionship that allow lives full of positive subjective experiences, and then killed in a stress- and pain-free way for food.

 

Q: It seems strange that a person who cares so deeply about animals would be working for a meat company.  Do you agree?

 

A: I’d say it’s strange that people with my background and outlook are so uncommon in positions like mine at meat companies.  The very fact of my hiring was a signal that Johnsonville had nothing to hide even before it had a formal animal welfare program, but also that they wanted to be challenged to do better.  Since then, my team – made up of people in different functions who care as deeply as I do and have all volunteered to take time out to do animal welfare work – has gotten such strong support from our executive team that we consider our program to be vital to the company and leaders in the industry.  It’s important work that we’re grateful to be able to do at Johnsonville.

 

In Part III of our Q&A, we’ll talk to Ben about the work Johnsonville is doing to improve animal welfare, and what their work means for customers of SSR.

 

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SSR Animal Welfare, Part I

Below is the first of a 3-part series of interviews with Ben Peyer, Director of Animal Welfare at Johnsonville, the parent company of SSR.  We’ll explore what animal welfare is in our industry, why it matters, and share examples of how we’re working to improve and share learnings with others.

 

Q: How do you define animal welfare?

A: An animal’s welfare is that animal’s subjective experience in the world.  A negative subjective experience is a fancy way of saying suffering; positive subjective experience is contentment or joy.  It’s about how animals feel, that’s it. 

My job is to lead Johnsonville’s animal welfare program.  This means making sure that every Johnsonville member treats animals with compassion and respect at every opportunity, but we have other tools as well.  We have considerable direct influence over welfare during transport and back on the farm.  Finally, we’ve put ourselves in a position to help researchers and industry-wide groups understand emerging issues in the pork industry.  Our work is potentially very broad in scope, but we focus our energies and influence on those areas that improve animals’ subjective experiences in the world as much as possible.  For us too it’s about how animals feel.


Q: Why is animal welfare an important issue?

A: The reason animal welfare is an issue at all is because animals suffer, and some sorts of animals – farm animals and lab animals included – suffer at a large scale.  One way of distinguishing modern industrial agriculture from animal-centric agriculture is the use of technologies that allow farms to increase their productive efficiency in ways that don’t improve the well-being of their animals.  Most farm animal suffering isn’t the result of cruelty, rather, it is the sad but entirely predictable outcome of a process driven by productive efficiency.

Why animal welfare is an important issue is different for every person and every organization, and the same person might have a different answer depending on the context in which they find themselves.  In nearly every case, however, the reason to care for and about animals is both personal conviction and good business. 

When I argue that a certain animal-care initiative is a good idea from a business perspective, my driving motivation is how the animals feel, while the business impact is (if I’ve done my job well) an effective lever for getting the right things done.  If the person I’m working with sees better animal care as a happy byproduct of a profitable business decision, that’s fine by me; more often, the person I’m working with is eager to implement any idea that makes things better.  There are no bad reasons to decrease suffering and increase contentment and joy.


Q: Is animal welfare the same as animal rights?

A: No. Farm animal rights are today not a topic of much conversation.  Organizations that work on animal rights, like Nonhuman Rights Project, argue that primates, elephants, and cetaceans (whales and dolphins) legally recognized as having “such fundamental rights as bodily liberty and bodily integrity”.  Animal rights are one specific way that some advocates are working to achieve better animal welfare, but not in the context of farm animals. 


Q: Why should “regular people” care about animal welfare?

A: Regular people do care about animal welfare, so I don’t think I need to make the case that they should.  The problem isn’t getting people to care about animals, rather, it’s getting people to act as if they care.  Most often, people don’t know how their choices are impacting individual animals, and don’t know which choices would be better.  So, to reframe the question (and provide an answer): “regular people” should act in a way that improves animals’ lives because doing anything else is entirely inconsistent with their actual sets of values.


Q: How can I get more involved in animal welfare on a local level?

A: I’m going to suggest everybody starts at a hyper-local level, that is, inside their own skulls.  Step one: decide for good that all animals are within the scope of our moral concern.  It matters how animals feel.  Step two: recognize that the choice of what we eat is an act of civic participation.  It is essentially a vote in favor of a certain type of food system.  Once we’ve accomplished these two hyper-local tasks, the rest will fall into place. 

Because every company is different, I suggest doing some research into how different organizations approach the topic of animal welfare to help inform your choices.  You can do this research at home (by finding information like this) or at the grocery store by paying close attention to labels.  The easiest in-store choice will be to only purchase eggs that have a third-party welfare assurance label (Certified Humane and Animal Welfare Approved are meaningful standards); better eggs are widely available and still a great value, and this “vote” will decrease the amount of suffering in the world. 

The next way to get more involved is to befriend a farmer!  Your local farmer’s market has been, until this year, a great place to find people who have made it their life’s work to raise animals with respect, compassion, and gratitude.  Farmers who are truly connected to their animals need people who care about animal well-being to be able to do their good work; those of us who are not farmers need somebody to grow our food in a way that is consistent with our values. 

We don’t need to let COVID19-related restrictions on things like farmer’s markets stop us, either. “A Greener World,” which is the organization that administers the “Animal Welfare Approved” standards, has a handy tool to help find products from farms that have passed their accreditation audit.  The executive director, Andrew Gunther, is a farmer and welfarist who thinks clearly and deeply about the central part that farmers play in improving animal welfare for farm animals.

 

 [In Part II of our Q&A, we’ll talk further with Ben about farm animals and pose the question, does raising animals for food go against animal welfare?]

If you have any other questions about our products, services or partnership opportunities, please contact Jessica Freeman at jfreeman@ssr-solutions.com or Lauren Sammel at LSammel@ssr-solutions.com.

 

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Porcine Research Applications

 

Porcine materials can be seen in a wide range of medical and research applications

The use of swine as models in biomedical research provide many industries with materials that have a wide range of uses that benefit the common good. Many porcine materials are used to create many everyday products, but a growing use of pig coproducts comes from medical devices and biomedical research. For biomedical research purposes, pigs play an extremely important role since their physiology is similar to humans. Because of the similarities in skin, muscles, organs and other internal systems, research models derived from porcine tissue are superior to other models since the likelihood of similar effects/results in humans are high. The uses of porcine tissue can be seen in a wide range of medical and research applications.

Translational Research

Translational medicine (AKA translational research) takes a multidisciplinary approach to put into practice the gains made through scientific research. Translational research aims to increase the speed at which new discoveries can directly benefit patients to improve health and overall wellness. One aspect of translational research is the study of cell cultures or animal models to treat diseases. The use of swine in the laboratory plays an important role in the study of various biological systems and organs:

• Cardiovascular system

• Reproductive system

• Digestive system

• Muscles, bones and joints

• Brain

• Skin

Organ Transplants

The common traits of pig and human organs make the use of porcine tissue crucial to solving the problem of organ donor availability. While scientists in biomedical research are looking at the prospects of xenotransplantation and genetic modification in pigs to fill the donor gap, pig coproducts play an immediate role in developing medicines to help donor recipients improve their chances of transplant success.

Regenerative Medicine

In treating wounds and trauma, porcine tissue is integral in helping patients heal and potentially regrow portions of their bodies. When it comes to treating injuries, doctors and researchers use an extracellular matrix (ECM) to promote the body’s natural regenerative and restorative processes. ECMs are a collection of biological material that help structure cells into new tissues. With ECMs, a wide variety of tissue types can be created/restored. Medical ECMs are primarily made from porcine tissue.

Porcine tissues and other pig coproducts provide a strong support structure to the creation of many products and the development of new innovations. While most people only know the use of pigs as a food source, the secondary harvest of pigs helps to eliminate waste while benefitting a wide range of industries. The harvesting of pig coproducts helps maintain a responsible and sustainable method of animal stewardship.

If you have any other questions about our products, research or partnership opportunities, please contact Jessica Freeman at jfreeman@ssr-solutions.com or Lauren Sammel at LSammel@ssr-solutions.com.

 

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Sows vs. Market Pigs

Pigs such as sows and boars are essential for a sustainable harvest cycle

Maximizing efficiency and reducing waste is a concern for every industry. Pigs grow and mature at a quick rate, and many farmers consider a pig ready for harvest when they reach a weight of around 250-270 lbs. Pigs at this weight are considered market pigs or butcher pigs. Pigs can easily grow larger than market weight, but raising market pigs gives industrial farmers the best return on the resources used to feed and maintain their herd.

While market pigs play an important part in providing a food source, pigs such as sows and boars are essential for a sustainable harvest cycle. Boars are male pigs that are used for breeding and sows are female pigs that have given birth to a litter of piglets. Sows and boars can reach sizes much larger than market pigs and are more physically mature than market pigs.

Harvesting pigs for biological materials in addition to a food source helps create a sustainable supply chain. After pigs are processed for food, porcine materials and tissues are harvested to a wide range of industries, including research labs and medical facilities. Porcine materials play a pivotal role in the research and creation of medical and biological innovations that improve the lives of humans and animals alike.

At SSR, we primarily harvest porcine materials from sows, which can give additional benefits to the co-products produced. Sows are stronger, bigger and more mature than market pigs, potentially giving their tissues advantages over younger specimens. Also, since sows are bigger than market pigs, the yields produced can be much larger, giving bigger harvests from fewer animals.

The creation of pig co-products and the harvesting of porcine materials provide an effective partnership between agricultural and scientific industries to promote the reduction of waste products while aiding in the creation of new research and medical materials. The successful collaborations in pig harvesting show that sustainability isn’t a far off dream, but an achievable goal.

 

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How Porcine Tissues Are Being Used for Organ Generation

How Porcine Tissues Are Being Used for Organ Generation

Organ donations and transplants can benefit many lives, but the process has many challenges. While the number of people needing donations outweighs the supply of human organs available, transplant patients also deal with the possibility of their bodies rejecting the organ. Because of these issues, many scientists are working towards new innovations to address the supply of viable organs and the need to decrease the potential for rejection.

 

Through the advancements in biomedical science, regenerative medicine and stem cell research, scientists are coming up with new techniques and procedures to grow cells, tissues and eventually organs from a growing range of biological materials. The height of this technology results in the creation of organoids and even 3D bioprinting. Each of these techniques moves scientists closer and closer to the prospect of viable organs for transplant, but more research is needed to make that goal a reality.

 

Porcine materials are a great aid in the efforts of organ generation. Materials harvested from pigs are have many benefits from other sources because of the similarities between pig and human biology. Pig organs are very similar to our own, and their internal systems are alike as well. Pig organs also function in similar manner as human organs, and pigs can also experience some of the same medical issues we do. Even now, porcine materials are often used in medical devices to treat various injuries or conditions in human beings.

 

In the generation of cells and tissues that pave the way for the generation of transplantable organs, scientists use building blocks known as ECM scaffolds to bioengineer structures that can be used in tissue grafting and other regenerative therapies. Porcine materials are an obvious choice for creating ECM scaffolds for immediate availability and relation to human biology.

 

As the technology for organ generation becomes viable for widespread use, its use in regenerative medicine, transplants and other life saving techniques has many applications. The biggest benefit seen by experts is the creation of organs that are perfect matches for their recipients. Degenerative diseases can be better treated, and the shortage of viable organs will decrease.

 

SSR Lifesciences creates many high-quality medical products derived from excellent porcine materials. We can source, prepare and deliver customized items in large volumes according to client specifications. From medical training, R&D, pharmaceuticals and medical device development, SSR Lifesciences can partner with you for your research or commercial needs. Please contact us to set up an introductory meeting.

 

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ARMI Membership

SSR is proud to announce it is now a member of the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute (ARMI). ARMI is a non-profit organization with a mission to “make practical the large-scale manufacturing of engineered tissues and tissue-related technologies, to benefit existing industries and grow new ones.”

 

With this membership, SSR and other leaders are helping to lay the framework for a more unified community in the field of tissue engineering. This framework will help enrich innovation and help streamline those innovations into manufactured products. 

 

Check out this feature on SSR on the ARMI blog here. Read about the importance of porcine tissues in the medical device field and the importance of collaborating with strong partners in improving, prolonging and saving lives. 

 

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Porcine Materials Play an Important Role in Medical Care and Innovation

 

Pigs play an important role in the overall health and wellness of millions of people around the world. While harvesting pigs for food is a commonly known practice, what the general population might not see is the benefit of processing pigs after they have been harvested for food. Porcine materials and other pig co-products are used in a wide variety of industries that positively affect humans and other animals. One of the biggest ways pigs play an important role in our lives is through their use in biomedical research. Porcine materials are used to make advances in medical sciences and patient care.

 

Pigs have had a wide use in the medical field due to their similarities with humans. Pig organs are very similar to our own, and their internal systems are alike as well. Since they are omnivores like us, pig organs function in a comparable manner to human organs, and pigs can also experience some of the same medical issues we do. Because of these striking similarities, porcine materials are often used in medical devices to treat various injuries or conditions   in  human beings.

 

In the field of transplant surgery, where rejection is always a potential issue, porcine materials are being used to help minimize rejection issues with patients using decellularized tissues and ECM (extracellular matrix) scaffolds. These items give doctors the basic tools and structures to minimize transplant rejection. Decellularized tissues and ECM scaffolds are essentially building blocks that doctors can use to bioengineer other tissues and internal structures that can be used in tissue grafting and other regenerative therapies. Medical devices and therapies using porcine materials have an increased rate of success due to the compatibility of pig co-products. With further research and innovation with porcine materials, restorative therapies and transplant methodologies will make the healing  process for many patients even easier.

 

SSR Lifesciences derives excellent porcine materials for development of  many high-quality medical products. We can source, prepare and deliver customized items in large volumes according to client specifications. From medical training, R&D, pharmaceuticals and medical device development, SSR Lifesciences can partner with you for your research or commercial needs. Please contact Jessica Freeman at jfreeman@ssr-solutions.com or Lauren Sammel at LSammel@ssr-solutions.com to set up an introductory meeting.

 

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Benefits of Porcine Tissue

 

The pork industry provides an important source of food and nutrition worldwide, but many

people don’t realize just how far porcine products can benefit their daily lives other than a

delicious meal. The porcine materials harvested and created in the making of meat products

highly impact the health and wellness of humans and other animals.

 

Sustainability is a key issue here. If pigs were only harvested for the products you see at the

grocery store, there would be about 40 - 50% wasted materials. However, sustainable

harvesting practices in the pork industry make use of the entire animal, and the uses of porcine

tissue are astounding. With responsible farming practices, all parts of an animal have a use and

value.

 

The uses of porcine material benefit many fields and industries:

• Biomedical research

• Nutraceuticals

• Animal feed science and technology

• Life sciences

• Cosmetics

 

To list every field and industry that benefits from porcine materials or the products made that

use porcine tissue would be too exhaustive. Just know that a single pig can be used to make

over 150 different products that increase the quality of life for millions of people and animals

around the world.

 

SSR is a sustainable supplier of porcine tissue and other pig co-products. We can source,

prepare and deliver customized items in large volumes according to client specifications. We

promote the responsible use of porcine materials to advance academic research and medical

training. We can partner with you as a supplier, industry partner or joint venture partner for

your research or commercial needs. Please contact Jessica Freeman at jfreeman@ssr-

solutions.com or Lauren Sammel at LSammel@ssr-solutions.com to setup an introductory

meeting.

 

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Pigs and the Prospects of Xenotransplantation

When it comes to saving lives through organ donation, America is in a crisis. According to the American Transplant Foundation, more than 114,000 people are on a waiting list for a vital organ transplant. The need is so great that another person is added to the national transplant waiting list every 10 minutes. With the huge shortage of available organs, 20 people die each day waiting for an organ.

 

However, with the technological innovations happening in biomedicine, we are getting closer to finding a solution to the organ shortage. Xenotransplantation is the transfer of nonhuman cells, tissues or organs into a human recipient. Xenotransplantation has been around since the 1950s and has been providing many different life-saving therapies around the world.

 

Of all the viable sources for nonhuman biological material, pigs are the best choice for many reasons. Pig organs are similar in size, shape and function when compared to humans. Pigs also grow and mature at a fast rate, avoiding the problems of the donor shortage. Also, with current advancements in gene editing and genetic engineering, medical materials derived from pigs have an increased chance at being accepted in the human body.

 

While the discussion and study of pig xenotransplantation is still ongoing, it is important to note that many porcine co-products are widely used throughout the world. From life-saving transplants, nutraceuticals and academic research, porcine materials play an important part in fighting diseases and restoring lives.

 

SSR Lifesciences supplies excellent porcine materials for development of many high-quality medical products. We can source, prepare and deliver customized items in large or small volumes according to client specifications. From medical training, R&D, pharmaceuticals and medical device development, SSR Lifesciences can partner with you for your research or commercial needs. Please contact Jessica Freeman at jfreeman@ssr-solutions.com or Lauren Sammel at LSammel@ssr-solutions.com to set up an introductory meeting.

 

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Member Spotlight: Alisa Satian, Team Lead

SSR is the premier supplier of porcine materials for a variety of industries, ranging from medical and pharmaceutical to pet food. We specialize in supplying customized tissue to meet our customer’s specifications.

 

At SSR, we pride ourselves in the superior quality of our products and the amount of care we give our customers. Our success comes from our team members, who continually strive to do the best work possible. We’re excited to put a spotlight on Alisa Satian.

 

Climbing to the Top

Alisa is a great example of a member who goes above and beyond to deliver customer satisfaction every time. A Watertown, WI native, Alisa has worked at our Watertown facility since July 2016, and has worked her way up to a Team Lead position. She now coaches a team of 16 who work together to harvest a variety of specialized porcine tissues and organs for various industries.

 

Helping Others Be Their Best

Alisa ensures that only the highest quality materials are harvested. She prides herself on excellent record keeping, strong training programs, and making sure her team is engaged. She keeps her team and herself engaged by making sure her team understands the impact that their work has. “It’s a rush to know that the material that you are collecting could ultimately save someone’s life.”

 

More Than Just Service

Alisa also puts a lot of emphasis on customer satisfaction. Due to the very customized nature of some of the tissue her team harvests, they depend on feedback to make sure they are meeting customer requirements. “Customer feedback is extremely important so that we can make adjustments if necessary. We have to please our customers first and foremost.”

 

A Perfectly Run Team

When asked what she would like people to know about what she and her team does, she said “We take a lot of pride in what we do. We offer the highest quality products to customers, with orders completed on time. Once we get an order, we work to fulfill it right away.”

 

Thanks for all you do, Alisa!

 

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