May is the month where beef takes center stage in the center of the plate. For beef producers, every month is beef month. However, May offers an opportunity to tell beef’s story. This story, of course, revolves around the commitment to animal care and husbandry, and environmental stewardship by farm and ranch families. It is clear that consumers want to know more about where their food comes from and this information helps connect the dots. While these things are important to consumers, many surveys confirm that their first priority is a safe, wholesome product.

Consumers expect safe food, and producers must remember every day that they are in the food business. We often think of food safety interventions at the beef packing plant and further processing sectors as measures that ensure the safety of the beef supply. Education on preparation, cooking and handling in food service establishments, restaurants and home also are important to a safe wholesome beef experience. But the bottom line is that beef safety starts at the farm, ranch or feedlot.

What are some beef production practices that contribute to a safe, wholesome supply of beef to the consumer? Most are part of the standards of the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program. Pre-harvest food safety can be enhanced by maintaining clean waterers and feeding cattle in a way that keeps manure out of feed and feed bunks. Providing a comfortable environment for cattle that includes good pen drainage in feedlots and bedding when necessary is important. Controlling dust in hot, dry conditions can reduce pathogenic bacteria. Of course, proper cleaning of equipment used for manure handling prior to using that same equipment for handling feed should be practiced. And there are probiotics and direct fed microbials that have value in reducing the incidence of pathogenic bacteria through competitive exclusion.

Other BQA practices that contribute to a safe and wholesome beef supply are following proper withdrawal times for all medications and having good records to document that withdrawal, using antibiotics in a prudent manner, following medicated feed laws including the Veterinary Feed Directive, using proper injection techniques and injection sites, ensuring proper storage of farm chemicals and pesticides away from feed storage, and using cattle handling techniques that reduce stress and potential bruising.

Beef packers are increasingly asking producers to become BQA certified as one of the criteria for marketing cattle to them. This allows them to assure their customers and ultimately consumers that the practices are implemented. The BQA program in Iowa is led and administered by the Iowa Beef Industry Council. Due to producer demand and the needs of the Iowa beef industry the Iowa Beef Center is now taking a larger role in assisting IBIC in this program. If you would like to attend a BQA program in your area or would like to add a BQA session to an existing Iowa Beef Center program, please contact your regional Extension Beef Specialist or the Iowa Beef Industry Council. We’re working together to improve your accessibility to BQA education.

Source: Dan Loy, Iowa Beef Center