Focusing on the ‘4-C’s’ and re-emphasizing Beef Quality Assurance
August 12, 2013
As beef producers and members of the agricultural community, we are all familiar with the unique success story of Beef Quality Assurance (BQA). The BQA program was established in the early 1980s to address some concerns in the industry. Beef Quality Assurance was an individual producer and state-driven initiative that has had amazing results. Some of the accomplishments include:
• Quickly reduced occurrence of beef residue issues to zero.
• Caused injection sites to be changed from IM (intramuscular) to SQ (subcutaneous).
• Reduced injection site lesions by 90 percent in fed cattle.
• Created the National Beef Quality Audit for fed cattle.
• Created the National Quality Audit for cows and bulls.
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• Developed national tenderness surveys.
• Established animal care guidelines.
• Created cattle transportation and handling guidelines.
Probably most importantly, the BQA program proved that the beef industry was able to recognize an important issue and take steps to address and solve the issue on our own – without additional regulation. We are quickly moving into a new phase in the beef industry. While food safety is always important, consumer concerns have shifted to other areas including animal stewardship and environmental sustainability. Beef Quality Assurance is also adapting to address some of these concerns, and it is important for everyone involved in the beef industry to please consider the "4 C's." As one of the biggest supporters of BQA, Dee Griffin says, "There's no endpoint to quality, and there are no 'Most Valuable Players' – we all play a role in improving beef quality."
The first "C" – Caretakers
For all of us in the rural West, we all know that Animal Care is the #1 goal, and a healthy animal is the most efficient animal. When addressing beef quality, we ask for five things:
1) care for animals
2) use clean feed
3) read the labels for the products that are approved by USDA and FDA
4) keep records and check 'em
5) pay special attention to under-performing animals that have been treated multiple times.
If we take care of the animal, we don't have to worry about drugs or residues. We have gone back to resurrecting some of our former terminology to describe management of livestock. Animal Husbandry and Animal Stewardship are back in our lexicon these days, as best describing our approach to responsible animal management.
In addition our continued best efforts to responsibly raise livestock, we shouldn't be offended when we are asked to communicate those practices to our consumer. Part of the answer is to continue to develop a positive message for beef production and agriculture in general. Another part of the solution is to communicate effectively through keeping and providing production records. To many this "feels" like an invasion of privacy, or a lack of trust. But it can also be viewed as another opportunity to show pride in the product that you produce. Most, if not all, of the large packing plants are asking for additional communication with ranchers – JBS has indicated that they are very happy with the BQA principles that have been established, but would also ask that we work towards some additional items. JBS's suggestions include the following:
1) On-Site assessments as part of certification
2) Participation by the dairy industry
3) Centralized program for transporter training – as it affects all segments of the industry
As ranchers we see the "on-site assessment" as stepping over the line, but swine and poultry have had to address this step, and as beef producers we will have to develop a compromise to address this request and maintain consumer confidence in our product.
An additional comment from consumers is sustainability and environmental stewardship. As agriculturalists, we all know healthy land is the most productive land, and we are the best stewards of our resource. Food producers are also faced by the additional challenge of a rapidly changing global situation. Estimates are that the world population will hit nine billion people by 2050 – a 70 percent increase. The most accepted definition is "using fewer resources," but sustainability also includes practices that maintain and support local communities, are based on environmentally sound decisions, and promote long-term profitability for the family. We can proudly report that the beef industry continues to improve in resource efficiency. Beef cattle production efficiency continues to improve, as we continue to produce roughly the same amount of total beef production while total cattle numbers continue to decline. We continue to be part of the global food solution, as cattle (ruminants) are the only "machine" we have to harvest the grass and turn it into protein.
Total system energy utilization continues to improve. According to NCBA life cycle analysis data, in the last six years we have improved 9 percent as an industry. Innovations within the food system include machinery and irrigation technology, manure management, precision farming, animal performance and crop yields. In the packing and marketing segments, bio-gas capture (packing plants are utilizing fat and tallow to meet up to 60 percent of their plant energy needs), closed water cooling systems and right size packaging have dramatically reduced the industries "carbon footprint" in the last several years. Beef production isn't watching from the sidelines, we are actively improving efficiency and reducing our carbon footprint.
For those of us fortunate enough to live on a farm or ranch and actively participate in the process of producing food, it is an important way of life that continues to shrink. Dr. Jerry Stokka, professor of animal stewardship at NDSU described it best by saying "Over 98 percent of all people never get to see a calf when it is born. People in agriculture get to see these little miracles every day in our very unique culture." Our unique culture not only involves caring for livestock, but caring for the environment. Wayne Burkhardt, professor of rangeland management, university of Nevada, Reno reminds everyone that "grass evolved to be eaten. It is a renewable resource that grows from sunlight." We need to emphasize that we continue to do two main things – manage the rangelands in accordance to how they naturally evolved, while producing protein for human consumption to meet global demand.
Beef quality assurance will always be a program that promotes and encourages food safety and responsible animal stewardship. As producers we need to continue to be passionate and engaged about our chosen way of life. Part of that engagement includes staying current with science and issues that affect our industry. F