2017 Industry Leadership Award Honoree
When historians look back at the beef industry in the 1980s and 1990s, they’ll recognize the beef quality assurance (BQA) program as a pivotal factor in restoring consumer confidence, halting a steady decline in beef demand and setting a new course for beef production in the U.S. And when they look at the people involved, veterinarian Dee Griffin will appear as one whose passion and commitment fostered major changes in attitudes, philosophies and production practices.
The BQA program began in response to drug residues, a common problem in beef at the time. A concerted industry effort, with Griffin leading the charge, educated producers and veterinarians about antibiotic uses, dosages, extra-label use and withdrawal times. Drug residues soon became rare, but the BQA program was just beginning. The first National Beef Quality Audit, in 1991, revealed significant problems with too much fat, injection-site lesions and inconsistent, often unfavorable eating quality. Again, Griffin assumed a leadership role in educating veterinarians and producers.
Raised on a cow-calf operation in western Oklahoma, Griffin took an early interest in beef production, which led to his completion of his DVM degree at Oklahoma State University in 1976 and master’s degree in pathology and ruminant nutrition from Purdue. Following graduation, he practiced beef-cattle medicine until taking a faculty position at the University of Nebraska’s Great Plains Veterinary Education Center (GPVEC). After 25 years at the GPVEC, Griffin retired in 2016 and assumed a new role as clinical professor and director of the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Center.
In addition to teaching classes, Griffin now focuses the Texas A&M “Serving Every Texan Every Day” (SETED) program for the Texas Panhandle. The program aims to improve connections between Panhandle veterinarians, potential veterinary students, livestock owners, managers and professionals. One goal is to recruit veterinary students who want to return to rural communities. “If we want vets to be drawn to rural America, we must recruit them from rural America,” he says.
Since the first audit, drug residues and injection-site lesions have become rare and growing numbers of producers have adopted low-stress handling methods. “We still have work to do though, especially in antibiotic use,” Griffin says. With the public increasingly concerned about antibiotic resistance, the industry needs to respond to protect demand and avoid tighter regulations.
“The overuse of feed-grade antibiotics such as chlortetracycline (CTC) and sulfamethazine make no sense,” Griffin says. “Feeding CTC to stressed cattle to prevent or treat pneumonia beyond the single five-day regimen indicated on the label isn’t supported by research. And feeding CTC with sulfamethazine has absolutely no research data to support its use. I am concerned continued misuse will cause the loss of CTC for use as a control for anaplasmosis, and CTC is the only product available for feed use that has a label indication for control the disease.”
The lack of consistent supplies of weaned, preconditioned calves available for the cattle-feeding sector provides an ongoing source of frustration, Griffin says. Feeding companies and Extension programs have helped develop verified supply chains, but “these efforts are a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed. If all calves were weaned before leaving their birth operation, antibiotic use might be cut three to four times, maybe more.”
Griffin credits some of his early mentors with helping foster what became the BQA philosophy. He worked for Hitch Enterprises in Oklahoma for several years and often refers to that company’s late CEO Paul Hitch. He also cites long-time Texas Cattle Feeders Chairman Richard McDonald for developing the original six summary points for BQA, which fit on a note card. “All six points were aimed at following the rules,” he says. “A rule for feeding high-quality, clean, uncontaminated feed, a rule for following the labels for FDA-approved medications, a rule for following USDA-approved vaccines, a rule for following EPA-approved pesticides, a rule for keeping records of product use and a rule for treating cattle as precious creatures from God. It doesn’t take a complicated book, just thoughtful, responsible cattle management.”
One of the beauties of the BQA approach, Griffin says, is protecting beef quality benefits the entire chain, from rancher to consumer. “It seems to me, the six BQA points should help prevent mistakes, which cost producers in terms of performance, gain and management efficiency. The simplicity of focusing on avoiding cattle-husbandry mistakes allowed the program to effectively trickle in all directions,” he says. Consumers, he says, have a right to expect safe and wholesome food and BQA allows them to base purchase decisions on flavor, price and convenience, without worrying about safety.
Griffin believes the word “quality” in BQA is connected to providing people with food the way God made it. “God didn’t put defects in cattle,” he says. “We did. If there are residues, bacterial contamination, physical hazards such as broken needles, tough meat at an injection site, it’s our fault.” Also, if we abuse cattle physically, mentally, nutritionally or environmentally, “they take it out of our bank account.”
There are fewer and fewer people in the U.S. with any relationship to agriculture, Griffin notes. “BQA is one of the ways we help folks who don’t know much about us understand we care a great deal about the stewardship and responsibility we have for cattle and the land on which they are raised. We are addressing Mr. Hitch’s pragmatic statement: If it is not right, make it right.”
Read more about the 2017 Cattle Feeders Hall of Fame winners: