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What is Beef Quality Assurance


Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) is a producer driven program in which cattle producers, from the cow-calf producer to the feedlot sector, assume responsibility for producing beef that is a healthy, wholesome, quality product and free from defects such as injection-site lesions and bruises. Producers in BQA programs keep detailed records of husbandry practices and treatments performed on their cattle. Further, producers involved in BQA programs assure their management, husbandry, and animal health practices meet regulatory and industry standards for these practices.

History of Beef Quality Assurance

In the 1980s cattlemen began investigating ways to ensure their production practices were safe and would pass the scrutiny of the consumer. Through the leadership of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), the U.S. beef industry started to focus its attention on producing a "quality" product. "Quality" is defined many ways, depending on the person or industry. Current trends in defining "quality" concentrate on harvest and fabrication. The focus is centered on producing products that are free from defects, consistent, compliant with harvest and fabrication specifications, and meet or exceed customer expectations.

The United States Department of Agriculture - Food Safety Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) began working with the beef industry in 1982 to develop the Pre-harvest Beef Safety Production Program. Involvement with BQA provides cattle producers an important key for avoiding additional governmental regulation. The USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service has commended the National BQA Program, as 47 states are involved in the voluntary program. Producer driven programs have proven very successful and will continue to allow the industry needed flexibility to produce safe and wholesome food in an economical manner.

In the 1980s, the demand for beef in the United States dropped dramatically. The beef industry began investigating reasons for this sharp decrease. One overwhelming conclusion was that consumers were not satisfied with the end product they were receiving. By and large, the public felt they were paying too much for a product that was not meeting their standards.

The US beef industry has taken the initiative to look at quality and see how beef meets the specifications set by the end-users of their product with the outcomes of three National Beef Quality Audits. An outgrowth of the quest for quality spawned the first quality audit of the beef industry completed in 1991. The 1991 quality audit was completed as a benchmark study. Improvements are difficult to measure if a benchmark is not available to identify the problems, as well as confirm industry positives. The initial audit in 1991 also allows improvement of deficiencies to be documented.

Goals of the North Dakota Beef Quality Assurance Program

North Dakota Beef Quality Assurance is an educational program to enhance the reputation and promotion of North Dakota beef by assuring the production of a consistently wholesome and healthy product.

Why producers should be involved in NDBQA

Producers should be involved in the BQA program to assure each segment of the beef industry, from the cow-calf producer to the end consumer, that the product they are purchasing is safe, healthy, and wholesome and produced following beef quality assurance guidelines. Producing beef in a manner that follows BQA guidelines can assure the consumer that beef is safe, wholesome, and of high quality.

Economically, there is potential for receiving a premium for calves that are "source verified." Feedlots have a huge interest in verifiable records of the production and husbandry practices that have been performed on the cattle entering their lots. In some areas, producers are currently receiving a $3 to $5 premium for "source verified" calves that were worked once at branding and sold through the local auction market.

Source verification is the ability to continually follow animals through the stages of production (from the cow-calf level to the slaughter level). Source verification is the most useful when records of production, husbandry, and animal health practices performed on these animals are kept in each phase of production and transferred with the animals as they progress through each stage.

Participating in the North Dakota Beef Quality Assurance program will offer producers the advantage of being prepared for the future. In the future, feedlots may require cattle to be source verified or certified, or discounted at the market.

How do I participate?

There are three parts to producer participation in the North Dakota Beef Quality Assurance Program

  1. Attend a training and certification session and obtain a producer or operation identification number.
  2. Raise calves according to NDBQA requirements.
  3. Market feeder cattle as NDBQA certified.

Producers must first attend a producer training and certification session conducted by NDBQA personnel to participate in the North Dakota Beef Quality Assurance Program. After attending a training and certification session, each producer or operation will be assigned a NDBQA identification number. If calves are produced following NDBQA certification requirements (see Certification Requirements of the North Dakota Beef Quality Assurance Program), and with the appropriate records kept, they may then be marketed as "NDBQA Certified." For the year 2000 calf crop to be certified, producers MUST attend a training session before January 1, 2000. Producers will need to be re-certified every three years.

Partners in NDBQA

North Dakota State University Extension Service

North Dakota Beef Commission

North Dakota Agricultural Products Utilization Commission

North Dakota Stockmen's Association

North Dakota Department of Agriculture

North Dakota Veterinary Medical Association


The authors of the North Dakota Beef Quality Assurance Producer's Manual used information and editorial comments provided by members of the North Dakota BQA Committee, the Nebraska BQA Program, North Carolina BQA Program, Montana BQA Program, National Cattlemen's Beef Association BQA Program, Executive Summaries of the National Beef Quality Audits, Pfizer Animal Health, and North American Compendiums.