Auditing, quality assurance within the beef industry may boost consumer confidence
Riverton – “The perception of an interaction between people and animals, for many people, is their relationships with their pets,” commented University of Wyoming Extension Beef Specialist Steve Paisley at Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days on Feb. 12.
There are TV channels devoted to dogs, fresh and refrigerated products available for pets and countless toys and trinkets that pet owners can buy.
“Some people don’t understand the distinction between caregivers and taking care of animals versus the relationship between a rancher and the cattle he or she relies on,” he explained.
This may be one of the reasons that producers have to bridge the gap between actual production practices and consumer understanding.
“From a management standpoint, we have to be creative. National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) are focused on animal wellbeing and providing some management ideas through different segments,” Paisley noted.
Retailers see that their customers are concerned about animal welfare, and they want more information.
“This is being passed back to us in the industry,” he said.
Opinions vary from one extreme to another – from urbanites who are subjected to countless examples of negative media to kids who grew up on a ranch and can not imagine why anyone would doubt that livestock are well cared for.
“Hopefully we are not all extremists one way or the other,” commented Paisley.
Producers need to be aware that consumers may not always understand how agriculture is practiced.
“We understand agriculture, and we know that productivity and growth is driven off the health and wellbeing of an animal,” Paisley said. “We know we do our best to provide that, but I think explaining that to the consumer is pretty important.”
Understanding the negative perceptions that exist is the first step toward improving consumer understanding.
“Some negative perceptions say that we exploit animals and all of our operations are corporately owned. We are all driven by profit and not animal wellbeing. Antibiotics contribute to our illness problem, and production is negative for the environment,” he described.
To combat some of these ideas, different factions of agriculture are creating voluntary auditing programs to evaluate and standardize their practices.
“The United Egg Producers have come up with some of their own guidelines and their own certification,” Paisley noted.
McDonalds and Walmart also have their own auditing services now.
“JBS Swift in Greeley, Colo., Cargill in Fort Morgan, Colo. and many of the other packing plants now have, at nearly all times, an independent auditor watching how cattle are being handled to make sure everything is being done humanely and realistically,” he explained.
Auditors watch holding pens, truck unloading and alleyways, making sure there is enough space and no injuries.
“They keep track of everybody using any kind of prod, and they keep track of vocalizations. If an animal bellows, they make a note of it,” Paisley added.
Tyson packing plants have established their own guidelines and no longer accept animals that have not been certified by their farm-check system.
“Now we are seeing where some of these feedlots are passing some of these efforts back down to the cow/calf producers,” Paisley explained.
Through these programs, protein sectors such as the beef industry are addressing animal welfare issues. They are talking about the issues and trying to improve consumer acceptance.
“We are seeing a lot more interest in doing BQA certification, cattle handling guidelines and transportation guidelines,” stated Paisley. “All of these types of things are continuing to be important.”
Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.