By Elizabeth Parker, NCBA chief veterinarian
From ranchers to veterinarians and everyone between, we all have a role in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of animals. In the U.S. cattle industry, animal abuse will not be tolerated. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) has proactively developed multiple initiatives to assure industry wide adoption of sound animal husbandry practices. These programs, which are based on decades of practical experience, research and the most up-to-date science and education, ensure animal health and wellbeing and provide a safe, quality beef product for consumers here in the United States and around the globe.
Caring for cattle is not just something we have to do, it’s something we take pride in doing. I learned from my father how to care for cattle just as many other ranchers did. However, the face of our industry is changing. We can no longer rely on the tradition of passing animal care principles on from one generation to the next.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there are more than 308 million people living in this country. Yet there are only 742,000 beef cattle herds, of which more than 140,000 are represented by NCBA. Simply put, our work is cut out for us. That is why, as the oldest and largest national organization representing beef cattle producers, NCBA in 1987 developed the Beef Quality Assurance Program (BQA), which is funded by the Beef Checkoff Program, to provide an educational platform for the cattle industry.
BQA is a successful voluntary program that helps to proactively identify and address areas of needed improvement in beef production. It works because of the responsibility and the ownership of the industry. In the Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln said our nation’s government was developed “by the people and for the people.” I am not attempting to compare apples to oranges here, but history has proven when individuals take ownership, they take responsibility. BQA is a successful program “by industry, for industry” that should never be weakened by being misused or construed as the basis of a regulatory or government mandated program.
BQA was designed and is regularly updated to provide flexibility to meet the diversity of the industry, including geographical needs, every producer sector or business model and all producer sizes. As technologies continue to develop, so have our programs. Veterinarians, animal scientists and farmers and ranchers joined forces to develop more than 70 online training modules through the Animal Care Training Program, a cattle management training program, which is managed by the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University.
The Animal Care Training Program provides relevant training information for animal caregivers and is available in both English in Spanish to help us efficiently reach all individuals directly responsible for caring for cattle. While training modules are available online and through other multimedia, we continue to utilize hands-on training. Stockman and Stewardship sessions, held around the country, apply BQA materials in a hands-on format with an emphasis on increasing cattle performance by reducing handling stress.
BQA guidelines provide managers of beef and dairy operations tools to train all workers on appropriate cattle husbandry and management, which includes humane handling and euthanasia. According to BQA, euthanasia is humane death occurring without pain and suffering. The decision to euthanize an animal should consider the animal’s wellbeing. When necessary, BQA states euthanasia should be done by either a trained employee or a veterinarian in accordance with the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) guidelines. The BQA Code of Conduct states that abuse of animals will not be tolerated. We believe any individual – from workers to guests – who witness willful animal abuse is responsible for making every effort to stop it immediately. Watching and doing nothing to stop abuse isn’t acceptable.
BQA isn’t our only tool. NCBA has worked with industry to develop and implement the Cattle Industry’s Guidelines for the Care and Handling of Cattle. The guidelines provide a basis for care and handling in areas ranging from feeding and nutrition to disease prevention practices to euthanasia. BQA also developed a Quality Assurance Marketing Code of Ethics and the cattle industry follows a Producers Guide for the Judicious Use of Antibiotics, guidelines developed more than two decades ago and adapted from the American Veterinary Medical Association, AABP and the Academy of Veterinary Consultants’ antibiotic use guidelines. NCBA’s Cattle Health and Well-Being committee provides strategic guidance to develop policies to ensure cattle health and wellbeing issues are being addressed to maintain the health and quality of cattle care.
The combination of these long-term proactive and responsible programs has made the United States a world leader in cattle health and wellbeing as well as contributed to domestic and international food security. Our programs recognize the importance of each animal in our care as well as the entire cattle herd. We also recognize the human element – a much more difficult challenge to successfully address as fewer people are raised on farms. Cultural and language differences add to that hurdle. That’s why we’ve stepped up efforts to deliver education in multi-media options as well as hands-on training. We will continue to work to expand and improve this educational reach.
Unfortunately, there are individuals and organizations attempting to spread misconceptions about animal care. They haven’t taken time to learn about the many initiatives and programs currently in place in the U.S. beef cattle industry to ensure animals are treated humanely. Rather than intentionally misleading consumers, media and all stakeholders, which actually demonstrates a total lack of care about the animals in front of them, it would serve everyone well if they would take a few minutes to learn about our industry’s commitment to animal care. NCBA members are passionately committed to providing the utmost care for our cattle and providing a safe, wholesome beef supply. We prove that each day. We will continue working to improve and address the human element in our diverse industry and never stop educating everyone handling and raising cattle.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) has represented America’s cattle producers since 1898, preserving the heritage and strength of the industry through education and public policy. As the largest association of cattle producers, NCBA works to create new markets and increase demand for beef. Efforts are made possible through membership contributions. To join, contact NCBA at 1-866-BEEF-USA or firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2010 National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, all rights reserved.