RFP: Enhancing Real Pork Trust & Image Through Communication, Research and Training

The National Pork Board (NPB) is soliciting proposals from a consortium of subject matter experts (SME) to work collaboratively with Pork Checkoff funding to address questions about pork and pork production through communication, research, and training. Applicants should consider this a program grant, which is more complex in scope and budget and longer in duration than an individual research grant.

Typically, NPB awards individual research grants to support the work of one investigator addressing a specific research priority in one year. However, this program grant seeks a consortium of researchers with differing areas of expertise and resources who wish to collaborate on research by pooling their talents and resources to focus on this issue over the next five years. While there may be one centralized administration core for the grant, it is unlikely that all necessary expertise and resources will be available in one department or even at one institution.

Depending on the proposed objectives, this may mean that the group includes representation from multiple departments and/or institutions and could include representation from international SMEs. In this way, the program grant represents a synergistic approach designed to achieve results not attainable by researchers working independently.

Cross-disciplinary approaches that encompass the biological sciences, social sciences, economics, and other fields are highly encouraged.

Proposals with a clearly defined, intentional plan for enhancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are also highly encouraged, which includes proposals from, or submitted in collaboration with, institutions focused on education and training of individuals currently underrepresented in the pork value chain.

What Problem Does This RFP Address?

NPB conducts Pork Checkoff-funded research, promotion, and education efforts on behalf of U.S. pig farmers. Public opinion research shows that by addressing questions about pork and pork production, we can build trust in the industry and help ensure the sustainability of these farming operations.

The Real Pork Trust & Image project was created and funded by the NPB Board of Directors to develop and share information in a credible, relevant way to resolve gaps in understanding and enhance the reputation of pork and pork production among key decision-makers and consumers.

Scope of Work

Addressing public perceptions through communication, outreach, and engagement based on research and training in order to build trust and pork’s reputation among key decision makers and consumers. The work to be conducted through this RFP will focus on addressing the topics identified within the Spectrum of Concerns by:

  1. Creating and sharing communications that break down concerns into understandable and meaningful messages appropriate for the target audiences.
  2. Identifying, refining, and conducting scientific research to address gaps in consumer understanding of pork and pork production based on the We Care® Ethical Principles.
  3. Training and developing credible SMEs capable of using verified data and meaningful messages to conduct outreach and engagement that improves trust in pork and pork production.
  4. Establishing an advisory council of scientific experts and pork producers to help prioritize efforts and provide input on outcomes and deliverables.

Spectrum of Concerns

Proprietary public opinion research conducted by the Pork Checkoff has identified the following questions or concerns that are limiting trust and confidence among decision-makers and consumers:

  • Does pork come from real farms or factories?
  • Is pork healthy and safe?
  • Do pigs have space and are they treated well?
  • What does raising pork mean for the environment?
  • How does raising pork impact our society?

Historically, NPB’s promotion efforts have focused on the product’s taste, enjoyment, and convenience. However, today’s consumers and decision-makers want to know how their pork is raised.

At the same time, the public has grown more disconnected from where and how their food is raised. Those in population centers are especially unfamiliar with farmers or farming because they do not live near production agriculture.

This dichotomy – between being further from farming, but also more interested than ever in where food comes from – has created the gap in understanding NPB seeks to fill.

The Real Pork Trust & Image project is focused on generating science-based information, distilled into easy-to-understand messages, delivered by subject matter experts, to build trust and promote pork with today’s consumers and decision-makers, living primarily in metro areas and on the coasts.

Proposal Requirements – Communication, Research & Training

We anticipate making one award to a diverse, multidisciplinary team that has the capability of assessing consumer perceptions to resolve questions about pork or pork production based on the Spectrum of Concerns, using existing scientific information, or identifying and conducting research where needed to have an immediate and sizeable impact.

A sound plan for disseminating information to a variety of audiences while training the next generation of SMEs prepared to conduct outreach and engagement is also required.

Additionally, the consortium is expected to leverage an advisory board comprised of pork producers and scientific experts to help prioritize efforts and provide input on outcomes and deliverables.

1. Communication

The selected coalition will have a robust, clearly defined communications and outreach plan with specific objectives for disseminating research results to a variety of audiences using a variety of media channels.

Special consideration will be given to proposals that demonstrate a commitment to collaborating with existing professional staff communicators at the university and/or leverage communications/journalism degree programs within the university and/or propose to hire specialized communications expertise in support of the project if selected.

This plan must also reference how collaboration with existing Checkoff-funded communication efforts and NPB’s existing strategic partners will be achieved to ensure the work conducted through this RFP is complementary.

Additionally, submitting entities should outline plans to test communications methodologies’ effectiveness and improve understanding of how to best address public questions and concerns related to pork and production and build trust through science-based messages.

Submissions should also outline metrics and tracking that will be used to gauge the effectiveness of, and make informed course corrections to, communications conducted by the selected entity.

This approach should meet the following objectives:

  1. Convening industry and non-industry experts and decision-makers to build relationships, broaden pork industry awareness and understanding and solicit input from a variety perspectives.
  2. Development of resources/materials that are effective in turning science-based information into meaningful messages for target audiences, in support of broad communications as well as SMEs conducting outreach and engagement efforts.
  3. Dissemination and placement of science-based information (including scientific research results) presented in easily understandable language in various publications, speaking events, meetings and other channels that reach the target audience (e.g., social and digital media, podcasts, etc.).
  4. Proposed evaluation of effectiveness using monitoring and other ROI metrics. NPB is working to develop a benchmark to help inform this approach.

2. Research

The overall objective of the research portion of this program grant is to identify gaps in research that need to be filled to address public questions about pork and pork production, conduct the necessary research and develop information designed to help in sharing these science-backed messages with the public (i.e., non-technical audiences).

Objectives include:

  1. Gap analysis to identify areas of research needed to address one or more questions from the list under the above section Spectrum of Concerns.
  2. Develop and execute a series of closely related, highly coordinated research projects under the umbrella of sustainability and based on the We Care® Ethical Principles.
  3. The results of the research will feed into the communications aspect of the project, including the potential for testing communication methodologies that improve understanding of how to best build trust in pork and pork production through science-based messages.

As such these objectives are partially dependent on one another, with the GAP analysis feeding the research projects outlined in objective two above. However, existing data may also be used to initiate objective number three prior to completion of objectives one and two.

In fact, the research conducted by the selected coalition must be in addition to, and in coordination with, the foundational research funded by NPB. Because the research challenge is multifactorial, evidence of a multidisciplinary (e.g., animal science, animal welfare, public health, worker safety, human nutrition, environmental health, etc.) approach is highly encouraged.

Additionally, development of research partnerships with individuals at institutions serving underrepresented communities within pork production or the pork value chain are highly encouraged.

The selected research plan may include, but is not limited to research in the following areas:

  • Occupational and Environmental Health: The benefits and risks associated with pig manure, such as ways to prevent pit foaming, encouraging safe manure handling, injection procedures and methods for controlling odors associated with pig manure at the time of application, etc.
  • Animal Welfare: Better understand both the quality of pig space and ways of allowing pigs agency in barns by studying farrowing systems, enrichment, resource use, and human-animal interaction in barns, etc. In addition, identifying and refining key items/factors to be included in potential industry-wide, science-based pig welfare guidance.
  • Human Nutrition, Environment and Sustainability: Explore the societal benefits of pork production by describing the inputs (e.g., feed, water, land, recycling efforts, composting, LED building elements, etc.) and outputs (e.g., natural fertilizer, high-quality protein, culturally relevant food, emissions, etc.) and their net impact in terms of meaning for society (e.g., jobs, nutrition, surrounding environment, etc.).
    • Create a holistic, farm-to-fork lifecycle analysis (LCA) describing the inputs and outputs of pork production as well as the nutritional benefits of the different cuts of pork and its health impacts on the consumer, etc.
    • Develop and test affordable, nutrient-dense, and environmentally sustainable eating patterns with strong cultural/societal value that feature pork and can help manage diet-related chronic disease (e.g., type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer, heart disease). Describe what eating pork means for cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure or stroke.
  • Pork Production and One Health: Research, understand and make recommendations related to the One Health approach, spear-headed by CDC and supported by NPB, which seeks to achieve optimal health outcomes by recognizing the interconnection between people, animals, plants and their shared environment.
    • Animal Welfare and Public Health: Improve knowledge and understanding of topics related to transporting pigs, including but not limited to, bedding and boarding, establishing critical temperature limits, and reducing risk of disease transmission during transport at all life stages of production.
    • Public Health and Environmental Health: Identify ways to measure and improve air quality in and around pig barns.
    • One Health and One Welfare: Identify ways to maintain a well-trained workforce to ensure the safe handling of animals while simultaneously prioritizing safety among farm workers. Explore farm designs and production practices that balance animal behavior and wellbeing as well as human worker safety and health including mental health.
    • Swine Nutrition, Public Health and Animal Welfare: Assess the impact of specific management practices on nutrient utilization within pork production, changes to nutritional value of pork, antibiotic use, animal caretaker health, animal health, etc.
    • Animal Health, Welfare and Productivity: Identify and assess the impact of lost efficiency in all stages of production such as sow and pig morbidity and mortality, seasonality, lameness, feed delivery, etc. and where appropriate consider the resulting mental health impacts on farm workers and identify opportunities to improve them.

3. Training

The overall objective of the training portion of this program grant is to develop an extensive cohort of up-and-coming SMEs who have the skills to engage in public outreach and engagement about one or more of the questions from the list under the above section Spectrum of Concerns.

Successful proposals will include the following:

  • How research projects within this proposal will be used as a platform to train graduate students in experimental methodologies as well as generate a practical understanding of the business of pork production.
  • Plans to develop a curriculum for training the next generation of SMEs from a variety of backgrounds on how to conduct successful outreach and education with non-technical audiences.

Training of students may take many forms but should go beyond what is typical of the mentor-mentee relationship between principal investigator and graduate student.

While the evaluation of the training component will partially be based on numbers of students and post-doctoral candidates trained and evidence of their successful outreach and engagement efforts, having a clear plan for career development of students interested in pork industry positions will be critical.

Added value will be given to proposals with representation from or, collaboration with, institutions focused on educating individuals who are currently underrepresented in the pork value chain.

The training program must, at a minimum, provide professional development to help the next generation of SMEs learn how to communicate science about pork and production for target audiences. And, in doing so, build skills in leveraging media and social media platforms and translating complex, scientific messages into understandable content.

This must be delivered through a curriculum or short-course that allows for training of the NPB’s Real Pork Scholar cohort – a group of up to ten graduate students selected by NPB for a two-year program of research and professional development related to the pork industry.

The following are additional opportunities for development included to spark ideas and inspiration for proposals and do not need to be included, or included in the same way, as expressed below.

  • Activities designed to creatively foster relationships among students working in cross-disciplinary fields such as an interdisciplinary cohort program that connects researchers in industry-related fields (e.g., swine nutrition, genetics, agriculture engineering, reproduction, veterinary medicine, etc.) with those areas of study outside the more industry-specific programs (e.g., sustainability, law, communications, biosciences, nutrition/dietetics, food science, etc.).
  • Opportunities for students to meaningfully interact with pork producers, practicing veterinarians, swine nutritionists, swine geneticists, pork customers, packers/processors, retailers, and/or other experts or experiences that would offer beneficial variety in perspectives to build understanding.
  • Development of work experience/internship programs for students where they are embedded with entities in a position to address the Spectrum of Concerns.
  • Development and application of leadership, communication, and interpersonal relationship skills in a team environment.
  • On-campus involvement in swine-related activities (where applicable) to recruit and generate interest in the pork industry as appropriate or build awareness and understanding of the pork industry among those in fields of study related to the Spectrum of Concerns.
  • Development and execution of training components and learning opportunities in pork and pork production aimed at graduate students from areas of study outside those that are more industry-focused to build interest in working in the pork value chain. (e.g., data science, dietetics/human nutrition, economics, engineering, computer science/engineering, environmental science, math/statistics/bio-statistics, ag communications, ag law, biosystems, business analytics, materials science, human resources, public health/pharmacology/microbiology)

Criteria for Approval

The expertise of the collaborators; the capabilities, capacity and support from consortium institutions; as well as collaboration proposed; robustness of the communications plan; scientific merit of the proposed research; a clearly defined, intentional training plan and intentionality of plan for diversity, equity and inclusion will be the basis for evaluation.

The full program grant and the individual projects contained within the proposal must meet the same standards of scientific rigor and statistical validity as is typical to NPB research grants.

A panel of pork industry experts will evaluate the proposal for fit, plan, capability and likelihood of successfully addressing the “Statement of Problem” outlined above.

Due Date

The deadline for this RFP has passed.

Proposals will be evaluated and selections will be completed by April 13, 2023.

Funding Amount

There is an upper limit of $1,700,000 per year for a project period of up to 5 years ($8,500,000 total funding limit).

NPB will return applications that exceed this funding level without review. Applicants should not interpret the maximum allowable amount as a suggestion to expand their anticipated budget to this level.

Reasonable budgets that are necessary to obtain the stated objectives are in favor of the applicant. Budgets that are not commensurate with proposed work or poorly justified will likely have a negative impact on the overall evaluation of the proposal.

It is allowable to request salary and fringe benefit support, but NPB does not pay indirect costs.

Proposal Format Requirements

Submissions for this RFP should follow the National Pork Board’s standard research proposal format and requirements. Please ensure your proposal format includes all required information, specifically under the budget section.

Ready to Submit? Got Questions?

Please email all applications and questions to:

Dr. Jerry Flint
National Pork Board