Eirich: Beef quality assurance audits may be mandatory in the future of beef production
Bridgeport, Neb. – As consumers show more interest in how their food is grown, third party beef audits are gaining in popularity. According to University of Nebraska Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) Director Rob Eirich, the beef industry needs to be prepared to have these audits become mandatory in the future.
“An audit is the official examination that verifies something,” Eirich said during the recent Beef Feedlot Roundtable meeting in Bridgeport, Neb. “We shouldn’t feel threatened by that. If we are doing everything we are supposed to, the audit just verifies that we are producing the product we say we are.”
Third party audits
Eirich feels the third party audits will become more important as the industry moves into the future.
“We want the auditors to verify we are using the best care and management of the animals we produce,” he said. “Consumers continue to want more information about how their food is produced. They want to know how and where their beef is raised. They want to know it is wholesome and safe, and that they are getting a quality beef product.”
Although current beef quality assurance audits are optional, Eirich suggests they may become mandatory for processors, feedlot operators and possibly producers in the future. The audits will evaluate if processors are obtaining their beef from a verifiable, creditable source and if producers are using their best management practices to produce a quality product. Integrity of the producer will become more important.
“Consumers are asking for these third party audits,” Eirich said, “but who are these consumers?”
McDonald’s recently issued a statement indicating that by 2016, all of their beef will come from sustainable operations. Walmart is also considering implementing similar standards.
Processors like Tyson have jumped on board by asking all of their suppliers to be subject to third party audits. Other processors like JBS and Cargill are talking about implementing an auditing policy but are not requiring it yet, Eirich said.
“The guidelines and benchmarks have changed for beef quality audits,” Eirich said.
One segment of the audit is ensuring employees are properly trained and understand what they are doing on the job. Employers need to be able to document that.
Eirich encouraged employers to conduct a self-assessment before they have a third party audit to see where they are at, what they need to improve and in what areas the employees need more training.
When the third party audit is conducted, at least two week’s notice is usually provided, Eirich continued.
“When they come, they will want a daily schedule and to see first-hand how the cattle are handled. They will want to watch how the cattle are loaded and unloaded and how they are processed. They will count how many fall and how many times the hot shot is used,” he said.
The auditor will also look at the facility to make sure cattle have enough space and what the texture of the soil is.
“It will differ by area, but they want to see that there is enough dry area for the animals to lie down. They also want to see how much mud is in the pen on an average, normal day,” he explained.
Most feeders have a plan for euthanasia, but Eirich told the group it is important to have this plan in writing.
“Having the process written down is key,” he said. “Acts of animal abuse are unacceptable, and they want to make sure of that.”
Preparing for auditors
When the auditor arrives, Eirich says it is important to have a binder ready with the standard operating procedure (SOP).
The SOP should contain documentation and record keeping. Health records, product inventories and feed records are all part of the SOP, he explained.
“Eventually, unannounced audits will occur so they know producers are following the SOP on a daily basis,” he noted.
There are three categories for scoring. An “acceptable” score means the operations meets guidelines. A “needs improvement” score indicates that required action must be taken to correct any problems. “Unacceptable” is a warning and producers must make corrective action.
Eirich said beef producers can prepare for a BQA audit by logging on to BQA.com and selecting the cow/calf assessment, stocker assessment or feedlot assessment depending on which enterprise they are engaged in.
In the future, Eirich said transporters may also have to take BQA training to haul cattle to and from the feedlot and to the processor.
“They just want to make sure they are also using safe handling practices,” he said.