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BQA program addresses beef quality and food safety

Gabriele Maier Published on 24 April 2014

Today’s consumers are more critical than ever in deciding what food items to buy. They are looking for assurance that the meat they purchase is safe and does not contain harmful substances.

In addition, drug residue violations and condemnation of carcasses at the slaughter plant due to disease or bruising can be costly for the producer.

Beyond the requirements for producing a safe and healthy product, beef quality also means product uniformity and meat quality.

With these goals in mind, the industry developed the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program. This voluntary program consists of guidelines for producers to ensure that beef is safe, healthy, of consistent quality and produced in an environmentally sustainable manner.

The BQA program requires participants to be trained and follow an operation-specific management plan. It is based on the idea of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point, where critical steps in a process are identified and preventive measures, corrective actions and monitoring are used to achieve the desired quality and safety of the product.

Whether a producer decides to participate in this program or not, considering the guidelines described in the BQA program may be helpful in determining where improvements in one’s operation are possible. The following are some of the highlights the program addresses.

Biosecurity

Biosecurity involves minimizing the movement of pathogens between sick and healthy animals. Important factors in biosecurity are:

  • Assessment of the potential for disease to affect a herd (How can these diseases enter the facility through newly purchased animals, wildlife, pests, feed?)
  • Isolating sick animals and avoiding commingling of groups
  • Quarantining and testing new animals
  • Controlling traffic into and within the ranch, considering the potential of vehicle use on the farm in the spread of disease and personnel in contact with other livestock at a different facility
  • Sanitation of equipment, especially if it is used for feed and water delivery to cattle and if it is used in other livestock operations

Preventive herd health plan

A specific herd health plan developed with the input of a veterinarian identifies important diseases for a cattle herd and how to deal with them. The plan may include:

  • A list of infectious diseases that could affect the herd
  • Vaccination protocols addressing those diseases, but avoiding vaccinations where the cost is higher than the benefit
  • Treatment protocols in case of disease, such as types and amounts of antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and supportive care
  • Internal and external parasite control appropriate for the herd
  • Surveillance, such as ear-notching to test for calves persistently infected with bovine viral diarrhea
  • Routine blood samples to test for trace mineral deficiencies
  • Necropsies of animals that died or were euthanized
  • Investigations of disease outbreaks or an increased number of abortions

Monitoring feed

U.S. law prohibits the use of mammalian-derived protein in ruminant feed with certain exceptions. Other substances in feed, such as toxins or pathogens, could be harmful to cattle or pose a potential for meat residues.

To reduce risk of disease or residues from purchased feed, cattlemen should:

  • Check purchased feeds visually for color, moisture, temperature and rodent contamination.
  • Properly store feeds to avoid mold or exposure to chemicals such as fuel, batteries and pesticides.
  • Sample each batch of feed delivered. Feed samples should be labeled and frozen so they can be checked if there is suspicion of feed contaminants down the line.
  • Ask their supplier for feed analysis test results.
  • Keep invoices for at least one year.

Drug use

Avoiding drug residues is one of the most important components of a beef quality and food safety program. It is important to know and keep a list of all drugs, vaccines and pesticides with their respective withdrawal periods.

A veterinary prescription containing any deviation from labeled use should be kept on file. Guidelines for proper injections are:

  • Give all intramuscular or subcutaneous injections in front of the shoulders to avoid injection-site defects to more valuable cuts of meat.
  • Never give more than 10 ml per intramuscular injection site.
  • Change needles every 10 to 15 injections or when obviously dull or dirty.
  • Do not reuse a bent or broken needle; animals with broken needles cannot be sent to slaughter.
  • Select the proper needle size for route of administration and viscosity of the product.

To avoid residue violations, follow label directions exactly. Whenever there is a deviation from the label, extra-label drug use (ELDU) guidelines must be followed.

Examples of ELDU are giving a drug in a different route, a different quantity or a different frequency than stated on the label. It is best to consult with your veterinarian on establishing the proper withdrawal periods.

Cattle handling

There are many reasons to minimize stress in livestock handling, from decreased bruising to improved health to worker safety. Some areas that can help achieve these goals are:

  • Chute and alley design that reduces distractions and fearful situations for cattle (A curved alley will help move cattle along more easily.)
  • Using non-bruising paddles or sticks with streamers instead of electric prods
  • Understanding of cattle’s flight zone (Staying at the edge of the flight zone is the best position to move cattle calmly.)
  • Taking advantage of herd instinct (Avoid isolating a single animal which may become agitated.)

Record-keeping and inventory control

Keeping a good record system allows the producer together with the herd veterinarian to monitor animal health and assess whether the plan in place is working.

Depending on the size and complexity of the operation, suitable record systems can range from pen and paper to computer spreadsheets and commercial software.

Records also safeguard the producer in documenting the use of drugs, feed additives and pesticides in order to avoid drug residue violations.

In summary, the BQA program addresses many aspects of cattle production that are relevant for any cattle operation, from cow-calf to feedlots.

It helps producers in establishing standards and guidelines to improve product marketability and raise consumer confidence in their product. Go to Beef Quality Assurance for a full description of the BQA program and how to participate.  end mark

Gabriele Maier

Gabriele Maier
Resident Veterinarian
UC – Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital

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