Beef Quality Assurance continues high importance as program focus shifts
Since the inception of Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) in the cattle industry, Wyoming BQA Coordinator Steve Paisley notes that Wyoming has been a participant and leads the industry in quality.
“Wyoming was one of the first states to participate in developing a BQA program,” Paisley says. “A lot of ranchers probably remember that BQA developed in the early 80s as a proactive approach to handling injection site blemishes and similar quality problems in cattle.”
As the industry began to improve by identifying problems and fixing them, BQA has seen changes in focus since its inception.
“BQA has changed quite a bit even in the last few years,” Paisley continues. “It now focuses on animal handling and husbandry practices, as well as aspects of cattle production like facilities evaluation.”
BQA is a national program providing guidelines for beef cattle production, according to BQA.
“The program raises consumer confidence through offering proper management techniques and a commitment to quality within every segment of the beef industry,” BQA notes. “Producers have embraced BQA because it is the right thing to do, but they have also gained through increased profitability.”
BQA first started in the late 1970s as Beef Safety Assurance (BSA). The BSA program targeted real and perceived safety issues from consumers.
In the early 1990s, the beef checkoff began funding the program in states.
BQA conducted the first National Beef Quality Audit in 1991. Since then, the audit has been conducted every five years.
To accommodate changes in the industry and in consumer concerns, BQA continues to grow and develop. Today, BQA encompasses transportation, feedyards and dairy assessments, along with assessments for the stocker, cow/calf and seedstock segments of the beef industry.
“BQA does more than just help beef producers capture more value from their market cattle,” says bqa.org. “BQA also reflects a positive public image and instills consumer confidence in the beef industry.”
Shift in focus
The shift in focus of BQA is two-fold, indicating changing concerns of the public and proficiency in addressing problems.
“Today, BQA is developing auditing materials for producers interested in evaluating their own operations,” Paisley explains. “There are checklists and self-audits for handling practices, husbandry, transportation and facilities.”
He added that the program is a good, clear tool for employers with new employees who are less familiar with quality assurance for cattle.
“We still talk about injection sites, antibiotic use and withdrawal times, where BQA started, but we are really transitioning more into animal husbandry, handling and those types of concerns,” Paisley mentions.
Ranches across the country continue to be involved in BQA, certifying their employees to ensure everyone on an operation is knowledgeable about quality control.
However, Paisley says, “We’ve struggled a little in the past few years. There aren’t as many people recertifying as in the past.”
“I think, as an industry, we are moving more toward third-party verification and auditing,” he explains. “This is still a tool that can be incorporated into operations, however.”
BQA is often used to train new employees, as much as it is to keep on top of the concerns that the public has with beef production.
“It is a good assurance tool for our consumers. A number of direct marketers use BQA to show that they follow good husbandry practices,” Paisley says.
While third-party audits are becoming more common, Paisley notes that BQA is important to instilling confidence in our consumers.
“This is another tool we have to assure the customer we are providing a wholesome product,” he says. “It is a way of providing an additional level of assurance to show we are aware of things like antibiotic use, injection sites and animal handling.”
The program demonstrates a promise to consumers that the industry is taking a proactive role in providing a high quality product that was produced in a way to foster animal welfare.
“This is an important program,” Paisley comments. “If we show that we can self-police the industry and self-audit our ranches, hopefully we can avoid additional regulations.”
The BQA program provides several avenues for producers to become certified.
“If there is a group of people interested in becoming certified, I still do some certifications myself,” Paisley says. “There are also some veterinarians around who serve as trainers.”
BQA certification is also available online at bqa.org. From Feb. 3 through April 15, the certification program is free to producers due to a partnership between BQA and Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc.
While the program has always been state monitored and state administered, Paisley notes that it is also transitioning into a national program to promote uniformity across the industry.
“A lot of people think that BQA is just following and keeping adequate records and giving vaccinations correctly,” Paisley comments. “BQA has changed and is now emphasizing handling and husbandry, which are important aspects of the industry.”