BQA and the NBQA are not the same, but they’re joined so tightly at the hip it can be difficult to determine where one leaves off and the other begins. It helps to remember how the two are related, the necessity for BQA when it began in 1987 (and the programs that preceded it), and why the program has been so powerful when it comes to addressing the challenges uncovered by NBQAs.

In 1980, some feedlots in Texas and Oklahoma received letters from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) informing them some of their cattle shipping to a packing plant in Texas served up carcasses with illegal drug residues.

One of those yards was Hitch Feeders at Guymon, OK. The Hitch veterinarian was Dee Griffin, who is now the University of Nebraska Feedlot Production Management Veterinarian at the Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center at Clay Center, NE.

The letters made no sense to Dr. Griffin. He and the Hitch folks were sticklers about following label withdrawal requirements. Hitch was also a stickler about maintaining records, so they had documentation to verify their adherence to label withdrawal.

It took a while to find what turned out to be a simple cause to the problem. “In order for the withdrawal time to work, we figured out you had to follow the label,” Dr. Griffin remembers.

The drug in question was penicillin. The label dose rate was 1 cc/cwt. But, throughout veterinary school and the real world of veterinary medicine, Dr. Griffin says it was common knowledge that in order to achieve results, you didn’t give 1 cc, you gave 3-4 cc/cwt.

Residue problems hadn’t occurred sooner because cattle were on feed so many more days back then. As producers shaved off feeding days, the window shut on what had been an unknown buffer for the extra withdrawal time required by the higher doses that were being administered.

Keep in mind, FDA was looking at more than the beef industry. At the time, Dr. Griffin remembers FDA was working with the pork industry on sulfur residues and fruit and vegetable producers regarding pesticide residue.

In the name of finding the problem and preventing any in the future, the late Ladd Hitch volunteered to open his feedlot medical use records to FDA and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). That ultimately led to the two agencies working with Hitch and a couple of other feedyards to develop what was called the Pre-Harvest Beef Safety Production Program. This process from 1982 to 1985 enabled certification by FDA-FSIS for Verified Production Control (VPC). The Hitch yards received VPC #1.

As this was unfolding, Jo Ann Smith, president of what was then the National Cattlemen’s Association (NCA) had appointed a Blue Ribbon Task Force to figure out how the industry could address the growing concern over antibiotic residues.

Dr. Bohlender was one of those appointed by Smith. Along with folks like Don Williams, DVM, of Oklahoma and Wes Bonner, DVM, in Texas, Dr. Bohlender helped craft the organization policy that would result in the eventual BQA program.

Back to Hitch, he was a member of the Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA). He shared his 40-page VPC document with the late Richard McDonald, then TCFA president and CEO. Griffin recalls that McDonald studied the document for a short time and allowed that it really boiled down to six key elements:

  • Buy and feed clean feed
  • Use medicines in feed according to label
  • Use all vaccines and medicines according to label
  • Use pesticides according to label
  • Document what you do
  • Review records before marketing

Remember, attention was originally aimed at feedlots, exclusively. “FDA painted the bull’s-eye on feedlots,” Dr. Griffin says because they knew about 80% of the fed cattle flowed through about 20% of the feedlots. As such, the problem could be corrected by working with relatively few operations.

All of these efforts resulted in the industry’s Beef Safety Assurance (BSA) program for feedlots. The program was renamed Beef Quality Assurance in 1987.

For one thing, issues like fat and injection site blemishes had to do with product quality rather than safety, Dr. Bohlender says.