This article appears in the BeefWatch online newsletter at UNL’s beef production website, https://beef.unl.edu. A new BeefWatch is posted every month, and interviews with the authors of BeefWatch newsletter articles become available throughout the month of publication and are accessible at https://go.unl.edu/podcast.
SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. — The Nebraska Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program is hitting the road offering in-person BQA trainings across Nebraska this fall and winter.
In the west, events will be held in Bridgeport on Oct. 27 and Scottsbluff on Nov. 9. To find the training closest to you, or to register for a BQA event, visit https://bqa.unl.edu/training-events.
The beef industry has been making moves to use BQA as the gold standard of animal welfare, and that is good news for producers. Consumers care about the welfare of food animals whose product may eventually end up on their table, leading them to ask questions about how their food is raised – in this instance, beef. In response, many restaurants, food service providers, and retailers adopt and implement animal-welfare programs.
One example is the BQA certification requirement set forth by most of the major beef packers. For example, Tyson requires 100 percent of the cattle the company purchases to come from BQA-certified feedyards. Cargill requires 90 percent. Both beef packers also require transporters who haul cattle to their plants to be BQA-transportation (BQAT) certified. Other beef packers have similar requirements.
The beef industry also is adopting the BQA program in sustainability efforts. Sustainability has been the talk of the industry for several years. Organizations are releasing sustainability goals, implementing sustainability programs, or participating in sustainability initiatives such as the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (USRSB). The USRSB has adopted a policy that participation in the BQA program meets the animal health and welfare metric of the initiative.
Adoption of BQA across the industry as the animal-welfare gold standard program means producers need not implement additional animal-welfare programs on their operations to market their cattle.
For example, if every food service company, restaurant, or retailer had its own animal-welfare program (created by someone who has never been a part of a cattle operation or stepped foot on one), producers would need to adopt programs that might have unrealistic expectations in order to market their cattle. The BQA program comes from guidelines developed by cattle producers, veterinarians, academic representatives, and other animal-welfare experts, which is backed by industry-related research.
While last February’s terrible arctic temperatures and blizzards took a toll on the psyche of farmers and ranchers, the articles and pictures from around the country of calves in folk’s homes and truck cabs showed the industry’s dedication to animal welfare. However, those positive feelings consumers felt in that moment subside and are replaced with calls to provide more objective measurement of animal welfare improvements.
Animal welfare is a leading discussion topic for the beef supply chain. Many companies are either already implementing or discussing implementing some sort of animal welfare program within their business model.
Throughout the beef sector, there is a recognition that trusted, science-based training programs like BQA are the only feasible approach to objective improvements to animal welfare. If producers can stay focused on programs like BQA, it will provide the needed data to show marked improvement in animal welfare across the United States, and benefit beef producers who are already implementing BQA best-management practices on their operations.
The BQA program is offered through in-person and online training. To become BQA certified in-person, contact your veterinarian, a Nebraska Beef Extension Educator in your area, or find an in-person BQA training happening near you by visiting bqa.unl.edu.
— Jesse Fulton, Extension Educator, Director of Nebraska Beef Quality Assurance