Cattle Economics

Beef Quality Assurance Is A Stewardship Tool

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Almost two decades ago, the beef industry had a demand-damning problem that no one in the cattle business was aware of: about one out of four top butts that retailers received came with an injection-site blemish.

Dee Griffin, DVM, a professor at the University of Nebraska Great Plains Veterinary Education Center, first heard about it from a major retailer in the Southeast. The National Beef Quality Audit in 1991 confirmed it at the rate of 23%. Worse, subsequent research at Colorado State University told the industry that beef tenderness was impaired for up to 4 in. around every blemish.

By now, you likely know the problem stemmed from what had been the traditional area of the animal used for injecting vaccines and antibiotics, and for the predominant method of injecting the muscle.

By now, you also may know that the problem was remedied in short order with the industry’s adoption of subcutaneous injections in the neck as a best management practice (BMP). The last time it was measured, the incidence of injection-site blemishes was less than 2%.

What may be too easily forgotten is that adopting a remedy embraced by a wide swath of producers came at the hands of the nation’s Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program established in 1991 with beef checkoff dollars.

The predecessor to BQA was the Beef Safety Assurance program. Griffin explains it grew out of concerns with antibiotic residues in beef. In the 1980s, he says the violative residue rate was 1.8%, almost double FDA’s target of 1%.

“Within a few years we had hammered that number down to less than 1%,” Griffin says; it stands at 0.0% based on random samples collected the past five years. It turns out that 80% of the problem stemmed from producers not checking records for withdrawal times. The remainder was due to management outliers. Think here in terms of cattle with organ failure preventing clearance of the antibiotic within the prescribed withdrawal time.

“BQA is a process of figuring out what could go wrong, planning to avoid it, and then documenting what you’re doing,” Griffin explains. He stresses, “BQA is not a government program. It’s absolutely a producer-driven program that targets food safety issues first.”

It starts with basic animal husbandry and includes documenting everything we do, Griffin adds. In an age when so few people have generational knowledge of livestock production, he adds BQA is way of communicating with the consumer. “Consumer trust is built upon producer integrity and BQA,” he says.

Since BQA began, virtually every state has developed a program based on national standards.

Though both blessing and curse, no one needs a license to run cattle; only the last bid and hopefully some basic knowledge of animal husbandry is required. BQA isn’t a license, but BQA certification does tell the world that the producer understands the basic concepts that go into producing safe beef in a manner that highlights humane animal care.

BQA certification is both good business and good stewardship.
Earning that certification has never been more convenient. Go to www.AnimalCareTraining.org to learn how you can receive training and certification online. For more BQA information and resources, go to www.bqa.org.

BQA best management practices

  • Care and husbandry – care for your animals so they never get sick. Vaccinated calves from healthy mothers stay healthy.
  • Feedstuffs – make sure your feed is free of contaminants.
  • Feed additives and medications – there is absolutely no allowance for using feed medications approved by FDA other than according to the label.
  • Health product use – every vaccine and medication has a withdrawal time; follow the label.

— Dee Griffin, DVM

What's Cattle Economics?

Wes Ishmael provides tightly focused analysis and commentary on specific beef quality and marketing issues of practical importance to beef producers.

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Wes Ishmael

Among the industry’s most insightful thinkers, Wes Ishmael concentrates on industry price and market perspectives for BEEF magazine. Along with his monthly “Cattle Economics” column...

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