In 1982, the United States Department of Agriculture-Food Safety Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) began working with the beef industry in the United States to develop the Pre-Harvest Beef Safety Production Program. The beef industry adopted the term Beef Quality Assurance (BQA). The BQA program is a cooperative effort between beef producers, veterinarians, nutritionists, Extension staff and other professionals, and asks them to follow accepted guidelines for product use and to use common sense, reasonable management skills and accepted scientific knowledge to avoid product defects at the consumer level. Its goal is to ensure the consumer that all cattle shipped from a beef production unit are healthy, wholesome and safe, and their management has met FDA, USDA and EPA standards.

USDA-FSIS has commended the National BQA Program as there are currently 47 states and more than 90% of the United States beef production involved with the voluntary program.

The FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine and USDA-FSIS began a heightened communication effort to livestock producers of their concerns about violative drug residues in meat. Veterinarians were and still are the critical link to keeping drug residues out of the food chain. Practicing bovine veterinarians working with field USDA-FSIS veterinarians figured out the five critical control points (CCP) for stopping violative drug residues:

1) Properly identify all animals treated.

2) Record the treatment details (date treated, drug name(s), dose, route given and who administered the drug).

3) If possible, select drugs to affect a cure that can be used exactly as their label directs; if this is not possible, significantly extend the withdrawal time (many added 60 days to the withdrawal for any drug used other than as labeled).

4) Review the treatment records of all cattle before marketing.

5) Beware of treated cattle that fail to resume normal growth or performance. These animals should be closely examined to evaluate the potential for organ failure (liver or kidney) that would prevent them from properly clearing a medication.  If possible, these animals should pass a drug screening test such as a urine antibiotic test before marketing.

These five CCPs clearly placed the veterinary profession at the front line of the residue avoidance effort. Cattle producers from the start have embraced the notion of assuring consumers that they are responsible stewards of beef. As such, the coalition between beef producers and veterinarians, both striving to do their part in producing a safe, wholesome, high-quality product, has been strong from the beginning of the quality assurance program.

The core issues in the quality assurance programs of all food items as addressed by the government’s HACCP program continues to target chemical residues, physical safety issues such as broken needles and microbiologic safety issues such a brucellosis, tuberculosis, salmonellosis, and more recently E. coli O157:H7. Veterinarians have been and will continue to be the leaders in addressing these issues in production. Beyond these, the quality assurance effort rapidly grew to include all possible defects in quality. These include injection site damage, bruising, cattle care or husbandry, health and well- being, biosecurity, etc. Again the veterinary profession is frequently the resource for many of these issues as well.

More than just health programs, veterinarians involved in beef production today must understand the inner workings of an operation including the financial health. We have understood needles and syringes are not the answer to cattle health and profit. Cattle care and husbandry is at the front of quality assurance and profitability. People throughout the life of the animal are the most critical component in this equation. Veterinarians typically have a great appreciation for the people who care for cattle and are usually good at expanding their efforts by training and fostering the growth of livestock caretakers.

BQA has become a useful adjunct veterinarians use to communicate good health management practices with their cattle producers. Initially, we were working backwards — the residue safety question was addressed with the five CCPs and along the way we found cosmetic issues like bruising an injection sites, none of which were safety issues, but all were defects that decreased consumer satisfaction and decrease carcass value. 

BQA today offers a forward approach that can be applied at any step in the beef production chain and is ideal for veterinary involvement. Simply put, if a heifer calf is cared for and managed properly in an environment that considers appropriate biosecurity measures, it is more likely to become a healthy mother. A calf born to a healthy mother and raised in a biosecure environment will require fewer vaccines and will be less likely to get sick. If the calf doesn’t get sick it will be less likely to have an injection site lesion and will never be a candidate for a violative residue.

BQA by the numbers
According to the National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA), injection site blemishes cost the beef industry $188 million annually and cost producers approximately $7.05 per animal.  Brands and other hide defects such as parasite damage cost the beef in-dustry greater than $648 million annually. This loss is equivalent to $24.30 per head.

Special concerns of customers and consumers about beef quality as identified in the 2000 National Beef Quality Audit include foodborne pathogens, antibiotic and hormone residues, natural/organic and animal welfare issues — all areas of veterinary involvement.

Successes from the 1991 through 1995 and up to the 2000 National Beef Quality Audit include 88% of cattle are free of major and critical bruises (a dramatic decrease in bruising since 1991) and 97.5% of top butts free of injection-site lesions (79% in 1991).