Editor's Note: This is the first installment of a three-part series by Wes Ishmael. Throughout the series, Wes examines the evolution of an extraordinary initiative that ultimately reshaped and repositioned the entire beef industry. The recently published 2011 National Beef Quality Audit reminds us there's still work to be done. The "golden thread" throughout the past quarter-century of BQA progress is the veterinary practitioner.

Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) is a program that’s strictly self-serving for the industry and the consumer,” says Bob Bohlender of the Animal Clinic at North Platte, NE. “The whole idea is to make the consumer the sole focus.”

Dr. Bohlender, in his fifth decade of veterinary medicine, is unabashedly unapologetic for his BQA bias. He was part of the process that brought the program into existence.

“Consumers need to be assured the industry is doing everything it can, on its own, with its own funding to make sure we’re providing one of the best protein products in the world,” says John Maas, Extension Veterinarian Specialist at the University of California-Davis who serves as chairman of the Beef Checkoff’s Joint Producer Education Committee.

Dr. Maas is referring to the most recent National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA) completed this summer. Based on findings in that report, the program’s consumer focus—telling consumers the beef story—is more important than ever.

In broader terms, the 2011 NBQA is a comprehensive examination of cow-calf, stocker, feedlot, packing and retail segments. Periodic audits have been conducted since the first audit in 1991. Since its inception, Dr. Maas explains the NBQA has served as the gold standard by which problems in the beef production chain have been identified. Industry recognition of those problems and work, much of it through BQA, has been the route to correcting those problems.

“The beef business has made tremendous progress in its efforts to provide consumers with a safe, wholesome and nutritious product that continues to exceed consumer expectations,” says Craig Uden, a producer from Elwood, Neb., who also serves as vice chair of the Beef Promotion Operating Committee.

“It’s clear we need to do a better job of telling our story—the story of beef production,” Uden says. “We need to be transparent about our methods, not just with consumers but also with each other. It’s important we do a better job of sharing information between production segments and ensuring market signals are being transmitted up and down the production chain.”