Dr. Griffin Awarded as BQA Educator of the Year
Photos Courtesy of Bonita Lederer
For many people, education is the key to success. This is true for all industries, including the beef industry. One of the most important educational tools has been beef quality assurance, which was created to help beef producers have a safer, more consistent product.
One of the original minds behind BQA is Dr. Dee Griffin, a Feedlot Production Management Veterinarian and Professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Dr. Griffin was recognized as the 2012 BQA Educator of the Year.
“I was very humbled to receive this award. There are no MVPs in this business. When a calf needs a drink of clean water, the guy who cleans and fills the water is just as important as the manager. It’s not because of me that this program has done well, it’s because of everybody. Everyone has pitched in. I’ve done no better job to contributing to BQA than 100 other people. There are phenomenal people in every state. When everyone is preaching the same gospel, I think that’s nice,” Griffin said.
He is a BQA Certified Trainer in Nebraska, and has served on Nebraska’s BQA Advisory Board since the program’s inception in 1987. He started the first “Train the Trainer” sessions in Nebraska, and has trained 250 BQA Trainers in Nebraska, and has personally certified over 1,000 producers.
Griffin works tirelessly to help producers, because he believes in producing quality beef products. “We have done a better job educating people and improved quality, safety and wholesomeness of our product. The program solved a few problems, and I’ve been fortunate to be standing around and helping out as it went forward,” he said.
Griffin got his start in the cattle industry when he was young, as he grew up on a small family cow/calf operation. He was involved in 4-H, and this introduced him to different facets of the cattle industry. However, he found his passion his senior year of veterinary school, while studying at Oklahoma State University.
“I had been introduced to feedlots during my senior year of vet school. I decided that was the second love of my life. I have never lost that. After 37 years, I have never dreaded getting up in the morning,” he said.
He added, “I have a great deal of respect and admiration for cattle producers. Everything that is in the back of my head is to help them hang on.”
His first big job was with a local family owned cattle operation who fed 250,000 cattle a year, had 12,000-14,000 mother cows, had 20,000 stocker cattle, owned two packing houses and farmed 50,000 acres. He was hired as their staff veterinarian.
“I hadn’t been there very long when the owner asked me how things were going. He gathered me up and I’d been told when I first came to figure out how the whole operation worked. He told me at the time that we had three residue violations, and that it was my responsibility to find out how that happened,” he said.
He added, “He told me that he’s spent 100 years trying to build a reputation, and he wanted me to find out how it happened, and to make sure it never happened again.”
They started looking at records, and tried to find out how the problems happened. “We started looking at how these kinds of things could slip out of the yard. We hadn’t missed anything. Every animal had a separate ID with a separate card. Then we thought we figured it out. In vet school, we were taught to use three to five times the doses of penicillin than what label directions said. We were following withdrawal times, but because we were using more, the withdrawal was extended,” he said.
He continued, “About the same time, the Food Safety and Inspection Service hooked up farms with cooperative extension, and they got a mandate that said the residue levels in food was too high. It was not just beef, but other foods such as canned tomatoes too. They needed to get these residues under control.”
Following the mandate, beef producers got together to figure out a way to get the levels under control. The operation where Griffin was working volunteered to be scrutinized by the government to find problems, and this is when beef quality assurance was born.
Several producers including Griffin boiled down the program to six key points to help producers create a better product. “We worked with a number of yards and other beef producers. I traveled all over to talk about what had been done and what the process was,” he said.
He added, “The point is we saw the residues within a two year period cut in half. With beef, you will never ever, ever bite into a residue. We hang up 27 million cattle a year. FSIS inspectors are responsible for sorting any animal that they have any reason to suspect might have a residue problem. In the latest report, inspectors had pulled off 135,000 samples, and found about 1,600 that had a problem. We are checking 100 to find one. You look at the samples that are positive, the residue rate in fed cattle is .00007 percent that have an issue. In cull cattle, .0025 percent have a problem,” he said.
He added, “Understand that what you are talking about are animals that have a high risk, and anything that has a residue doesn’t get in the system. That meat is held until the tests come back. If it is positive, it does not enter the food chain. The chances of a residue sliding by is zero percent according to FSIS. That’s been statistically shown.”
The move to Nebraska for Griffin was part of his mission to help producers. “The beef industry in Nebraska is amazing. Words can’t describe how amazing the people are here; their work ethics and morals. Three out of 10 people are involved in ag here. They believe that if it ain’t right, make it right,” he said.
He continued, “From 1982 to now, I’ve been trying to help cattle people and other vets find things they don’t understand. Now, we spend a big part of the day making sure people understand how cattle think. Low-stress cattle handling is part of BQA.”
Part of what Griffin does now is training of employees. “We have nationally sponsored training now, with over 100 employee training segments available on the internet from which we can train, test the people on the materials and certificate those people. This includes handling feed, doctoring cattle and loading cattle. They sit down and do the training and a lot of it comes straight from BQA,” he said.
“We are now looking at certifying feedyards, with animal care certifications for feedlots. We developed a manual for cow/calf producers, feeders and stockers. Whoever buys their products, there are assessments that are done once a month in house, and once a year by a third party,” he said.
Griffin explained, “This includes animal care, and how they handle medications. This certification shows that a particular organization has met and is consistently and regularly meeting the standards for quality production and management. There are 89 feedyards in Nebraska that have been certified, and we should have 30 more yards this summer. Packers are excited because they have customers who are looking for additional assurances that the cattle are not only residue free, but they are humanely treated throughout production.”
At the end of the day, Griffin wants consumers to feel good about what they are eating. “We want when people go to the grocery store, for people to know they are standing in the middle of a place where they know everything is safe. They never have to worry about the safety or the humane care from where the product came. We want to take animal production issues off their mind. If things are done right, they should have no reason to worry,” he said.