"Consumers, while they buy convenience, quality, consistency and price, they're just not in the market if they don't trust the food. So the (industry's national) quality assurance program is about validating producer integrity," says Dee Griffin, professor in the University of Nebraska Veterinary and Biomedical Science Department, headquartered in Clay Center, NE. "Quality assurance programs give us some way to communicate with consumers."

Griffin says the foundation of the industry’s Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program has six points:

  • Care and husbandry practices. “Care for your animals, so they never get sick. Vaccinate. Calves born to healthy mothers will stay healthy. All those things our great-grandfathers taught us years ago, those things we learned in FFA and 4-H, those things we learned in animal science classes in college. Take care of this wonderful creature that we get from God and we won’t have many of the defects that humans create.”

  • Feedstuffs. “Feed them right. Make sure you feed clean feedstuffs. So check feedstuffs coming in to see that, in fact, they’re clean.”

  • Feed additives and medications. “Follow the rules. There is absolutely no allowance for using any feed medication approved by the FDA other than as is labeled. And that is strictly enforced,” Griffin says. And check withdrawal times – different products have different withdrawal times. “Follow those guidelines. Strictly follow all withdrawal times in product use,” he says.

  • Records. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure and records are the very first measurement. When you get ready to sell something, check records for the individual animals or groups of animals for what they’ve had before marketing,” he says. Then hang onto those records – national guidelines call for hanging onto all records for not less than two years. “Standard operating procedures or best management practices become the foundation that, in fact, has us on the right track for making residues a thing of the past,” he says.

  • Management outliers. A critical key is to watch those animals that are management outliers in terms of residues, Griffin says. Those are animals that have been treated multiple times. “Let’s say we treated an animal for lepto, which is a kidney disease. And I treated that animal with an antibiotic that is cleared in the kidney. If the kidney isn’t working normally, then we wouldn’t expect that drug to necessarily be cleared normally. So any of these outliers need to be evaluated by management and veterinarians very carefully.”

If there’s a question, Griffin says don’t hesitate to conduct a urine test on the animal and scrutinize your records. “The bottom line for all the residues FDA has looked at for the last five years, over 80% of them would have been avoided if somebody would have checked the records. It’s as simple as that. Check the records to make sure you did what you said you were going to do in terms of withdrawal. The remaining 20% all deal with management outliers. There’s some organ defect that they did not clear the drug properly,” Griffin says.

A key part of a successful BQA program is training, according to Jim Collins, director of industry relations for the Southeastern Livestock Network and past BQA coordinator for the Georgia Cattlemen’s Association. “We don’t need to take for granted that everyone understands BQA, so we need to make a concerted effort to pull in anyone who’s going to be a part of the production practice, whether it be family, employees, suppliers who may be involved with the process, or specialists who may be involved from an animal health or nutrition standpoint.”

Collins says that while you can never have enough training for family and employees, don’t neglect your own continuing education regarding BQA. “A good way to avoid gaps in this process is to develop checklists, then have records that coincide with those checklists.”

For info on the industry’s BQA program, including information and training resources, go to www.bqa.org.
-- Burt Rutherford