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Professional Version

Beef Quality Assurance and Beef Safety Programs


W. Mark Hilton

, DVM, DABVP, Veterinary Clinical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, Purdue University

Reviewed/Revised Apr 2014 | Modified Oct 2022

The purpose of a beef quality assurance (BQA) program is to identify and avoid areas in the feedlot where quality or safety defects can be seen. The goal of the BQA program is to assure the consumer that all cattle shipped from a feedlot are healthy, wholesome, and safe and that their management has met all government and industry standards.

The feedlot must be able to document all steps of production. Critical points in production must be monitored to ensure no residue violations or carcass defects. These critical points include, but are not limited to, incoming cattle, product and commodities, cattle handling, and evaluation of outgoing cattle. There is a built-in margin of safety for withdrawal times in the feedlot industry, because most withdrawal times for animal health products are shorter than the feeding periods. Feedlot personnel must be aware of situations that create high risk of residues. Nonperforming cattle could have organ damage, which could prevent normal clearance of a drug product, causing violative residues even after the preslaughter withdrawal time has elapsed.

The BQA program is based on the principles of the Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points (HACCP) system. Each production step should be evaluated for potential quality or safety defects, including bacterial contamination, which can cause infectious disease in cattle or employees; chemical usage/contamination, which can lead to violative residues; and physical damage, such as injection site damage, bruising, or broken needles in animal tissues. The analysis should include sanitation standard operating procedures (eg, finding ways to prevent or minimize fecal-oral contamination).

All relevant government regulations on feedstuffs, feed additives, and medications (including route of administration and withdrawal times) must be closely followed. Extra-label drug use must be prescribed only by the herd health veterinarian. All owners of cattle treated with medications administered extra-label must comply with prescribed, extended withdrawal times that have been set by the herd health veterinarian under the guidelines of a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship. The Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank is the primary resource to determine the preslaughter withdrawal time when an animal has been treated in an extra-label manner.

Record Keeping:

All records should be kept for ≥2 yr after cattle have been shipped from the feedlot. If a violative residue is found in any cattle shipped for slaughter, the feedlot must make applicable records available to the appropriate government agencies. The source and cause of violative residue should be determined and corrective action taken to prevent reoccurrence.

Individual Records:

Treatment records should be maintained for all cattle treated individually. This can be done using handwritten records or a computerized record system. Essential information includes the individual animal identification, treatment date(s), diagnosis, drug administered, serial/lot number, dosage used, approximate weight of animal, route and location of administration, and earliest date the animal could clear the preslaughter withdrawal period. The treatment history of cattle with chronic medical problems, or of those that have a poor, unexplained growth rate, should be scrutinized carefully. In many cases, residue screening, such as the live animal swab test, is advisable. Residue screening should be performed under the supervision of the herd health veterinarian. The results of such testing determine whether an animal can be released for shipment.

Group Records:

All animals treated as part of a group (processing or mass medication) should be identified by group or lot, and the treatment information should be recorded. Records should include the animal lot or group identification, product used, serial/lot number of the product, date treated, dosage used, route and location of administration, and withdrawal information. A preslaughter withdrawal time is assigned to the entire pen. Recording treatments under this system assumes that every animal in the lot or group received the treatment. The health records of cattle shipped to slaughter should be checked by feedlot personnel to ensure that treated animals have cleared the appropriate withdrawal times. All pesticides should be used in accordance with label directions, and their use and withdrawal time should be recorded.

Treatment Protocol Book:

The herd health veterinarian should provide a treatment protocol book specific to the feedlot operation. It should be reviewed regularly and updated at least every 90 days. One copy should be kept at the treatment facility and another copy should be maintained in the feedlot office. A written treatment protocol and current prescriptions are important documents the feedlot must have if there is a government inspection of the feedlot facilities, drug usage procedures, and residue avoidance plans. It also provides written guidelines for animal health programs, thus minimizing chances of mistakes or misunderstandings.

Culling of Feedlot Cattle

Culling may be done at any point between examination of the cattle on arrival and a few weeks later, before the cattle are placed on a high-energy diet. Diseases that justify culling include chronic unthriftiness and inappetence of undetermined etiology, chronic laminitis, chronic lameness caused by footrot, chronic bloat, chronic pneumonia, acute and chronic pulmonary abscess, and bovine viral diarrhea. Each of these diseases leads to unthriftiness, and a clinical examination is necessary for diagnosis.

Animal Welfare in Feedlots

Good feedlot design is important to ensure animal comfort. Handling facilities must be modern and efficient and must not induce animal attendants to be cruel to animals when they are being moved from one location to another; excessive force should not be used to get the animals to move. The feedlot personnel must be educated in the techniques of low-stress cattle handling and recognition of signs of pain and discomfort associated with certain illnesses.

The veterinarian should emphasize good feedlot design and equipment that will ensure comfort for the animals and minimize pain and stress associated with handling procedures. The veterinarian must also be a vigilant guardian, denouncing inhumane practices and encouraging sound animal welfare management.

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