From discerning consumers who want to enjoy beef “guilt free” to animal activists who try to create doubt about our food and those who produce it, the dynamics are complex in today’s food production system. At the very core of animal agriculture, however, is something that both producers and rural practitioners engage in and can improve upon each and every day, and that is animal welfare.

The Right Thing

Animal welfare is animal husbandry,” reminds Dan Thomson, DVM, director of the Beef Cattle Institute at the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. It’s the understanding that animal welfare improves not only the health and productivity of an animal, he says, but more than likely an operation’s profitability.

“The other reason we promote animal welfare is because it’s the right thing to do.”

At every opportunity Dr. Thomson, a third-generation bovine veterinarian, encourages producers to work with their veterinarian and get him or her on their farm. “A veterinary client-patient relationship is hugely important,” he advises. Likewise he encourages veterinarians to incorporate animal welfare practices, such as Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) and its assessments, into their practices.

BEEF  Video: Animal Welfare: Why It Is Always Important To You

In his editorial in the September 2012 issue of BEEFVet, he points out that BQA is a “natural fit” for the veterinary profession to provide as a service to its clients.

He adds, “Veterinary colleges are starting to incorporate BQA certification as part of their beef production medicine curricula and are using the assessment tools in their teaching hospitals.”

“The veterinarian is a key piece of this,” agrees Ryan Ruppert, senior director of Beef Quality Assurance for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “They have the knowledge, training and connections to make sure that all the different interactions provide the best possible solution for the animal and the best meat experience for the consumer. The veterinarian is the consumers’ safeguard to assure the product they buy is as safe as possible.”

He adds that Beef Checkoff funded market research shows consumers overwhelming believe in the integrity and ability of veterinarians, similar as they do medical doctors.

BQA involves training for best management practices for antibiotic residue avoidance, food safety and animal welfare. The most recent expansion of the industry’s quality assurance program, developed through the Beef Checkoff, is the creation of cow-calf, stocker and feedlot self-assessment tools which are carried out at the grass-roots level.

“The assessments are for managers and owners to look at their operations to see where they can make improvements and things better,” says Ruppert. “Total quality management for beef quality assurance, which is what BQA is founded on, is about continuous improvement.” We’re never at our destination; we can always do better in the creation of a better, safer food product for the consumer.

Furthermore, these plans act as checklists and records. In the event there is a claim of abuse or neglect against the feedlot, cow-calf or stocker operation, a farmer or rancher can check their notebook or file, Dr. Thomson says, to show the exact procedures that employees have been trained to follow by veterinarians, nutritionists and others.