How do Ranchers Provide Consumer Trust and Animal Welfare

animal welfare consumer perceptionsBy Dr. John Paterson, Executive Director of Education, NCBA

The public is not demanding to know where food comes from because it has figured that out.  The public wants to be assured that the people who produce food can be trusted to care for animals and to use on-farm technology responsibly and sustainably. Ninety six percent of consumers say that they support raising cattle for food only if ranchers provide good care for their animals and treat them humanely (Food Safety Survey, Nov. 2008).

Research (Consumer Attitudes to Animal Welfare) reveals that consumers know very little about the agricultural supply chain, and in particular, they are often deliberately ignorant of anything that happens between slaughter and consumption.

Research from the 1980’s showed that consumers wanted beef that had acceptable taste, was convenient to prepare, nutritious, and a variety of cuts could be purchased at a reasonable price.  Today, consumers still want these same traits, but now they also want assurances about the environment, social causes, and animal welfare. The term “story beef” has come into vogue because consumers are asking questions about how livestock producers raised the beef.

For example, did the producer live nearby, did he treat ranch workers fairly, did he practice environmental stewardship, did the ranch operate sustainably, did the producer receive a fair price and did he/she properly care for the animals (Smith, 2008)? Three-fourths of grocery shoppers indicated that they wanted information about the content, origin and how food was grown, processed and manufactured.

Women account for 93% of US food purchases and feel a strong emotional attachment to beef.  The fact that most beef comes from family farms, and that farmers’ care about their animals and the beef they produce resonates with women (John Maday, Drovers J., July, 29, 2010).

The three emotional pillars that female shoppers want from beef include:

  1. the assurance that family ranchers care about their animals and beef quality;
  2. that oversight from USDA and FDA assures that today’s beef is safer than ever and;
  3. the shopper wants control over food-purchasing decisions.

Whom do consumers trust for humane treatment of farm animals?  Janice Swanson from Michigan State University said that consumers trust people like themselves most, followed by advocacy groups, farmers/producers, federal regulatory agencies, grocery stores, restaurants and lastly food companies and processors. Consumers assign to farmers and advocacy groups more responsibility for the humane treatment of farm animals than to any other group.

Of more than 1,000 respondents to a 2007 Oklahoma State University survey, 52% said personal food choices have a large impact on the well-being of farm animals, and 49% said they consider the well-being of farm animals when they make food purchasing decisions (Lusk JL, et al, Consumer Perceptions for Farm Animal Welfare: Results of a Nationwide Telephone Survey, Oklahoma State University, Department of Agricultural Economics, 2007.). This study clearly demonstrated (Table 1) the importance placed on various animal husbandry issues.

Table 1 Importance of Animal Welfare Husbandry Factors

Have ranchers responded to consumer concerns? The fundamental values of animal science have traditionally been improved production and efficiency.  Rollin (2010) argues that the science of animal production and husbandry needs to also respect animal nature, minimize pain and distress, control environmental degradation growing out of production systems, exhibit concern for animal production in rural communities and show concern for animal needs and nature.

It is the cattle farmer’s responsibility to ensure that the focus of scientific research and on-farm animal care continues to improve animal well being. It is the farmer’s job to convey the message that “I care for my animals, and I am competent in providing that care” to the American consumer.

The National Cattlemens’ Beef Association has worked diligently to articulate the “Producer Code for Cattle Care,” which are sound production practices. These practices include:

  • To provide adequate food, water and care to protect cattle health and well-being;
  • To provide disease prevention practices to protect herd health;
  • To provide facilities that allow safe and humane movement and/or restraint of livestock;
  • To provide personnel with training to properly handle and care for cattle and;
  • To make timely observations of livestock to ensure basic needs are being met.

Dr. Dave Daley, Professor of Animal Science at California State University-Chico, predicted how livestock producers can lose an argument over an animal welfare issue (How to Lose the Argument on Animal Welfare – Top 10 Reasons, Southwest Farm Press, March 16th 2010).  Among the predictions he made were:

Do not assume that science will give us all the answers; it only gives us some of the answers. Science does not solve ethical questions;

Argue that economics justifies all of our practices. It makes logical sense for us to say “well of course we treat them well or we will not make money”.  If this is only about making money rather than working with animals, we probably should be in another line of work. We need to convince the public that we truly care about animals, not just about dollars;

Not working hard enough to build coalitions that include the consumers;

Finally, have we asked livestock producers about these issues? The overwhelming majority will respond ”animals have the right to be treated humanely and ethically.”

Beef Quality Assurance Programs

Beef Quality Assurance Program and Animal Welfare

Beef Quality Assurance ProgramsWhat is the Beef Quality Assurance program and what does it have to do with Animal Welfare standards for ranchers and cattle producers in the United States?

Beef Quality Assurance is a national program that provides guidelines for beef cattle production. The program raises consumer confidence through offering proper management techniques and a commitment to quality within every segment of the beef industry. Producers have embraced BQA because it is the right thing to do; but they have also gained through increased profitability. As an educating program, BQA helps producers identify management processes that can be improved.

Below is a bit of background information on the programs. For more on National BQA programs, visit For contact information in Montana, click here. For online BQA certification, click here.

History of the Beef Quality Assurance Program

The Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program was established in 1987 by The Beef Checkoff to provide cattle producers with the tools and training necessary to assure animal health and well-being as well as provide a safe, quality product. BQA is a pre-harvest supply chain management program that applies the latest science and technology to ensure beef quality and safety. It unites animal scientists, veterinarians, feed suppliers, animal health companies, meatpackers, retailers and state and federal regulators with producers to achieve this common goal.

BQA Certification Process

BQA encourages anyone who works regularly with cattle – on the farm, ranch or feedlot – to become BQA certified by one of nearly 100 state coordinators through hands-on, classroom-style and online training. BQA influences the management practices of more than 90 percent of U.S. cattle.

BQA Guidelines Relating to Animal Care and Husbandry

The BQA principals on cattle care and treatment are captured within the foundational document, the “Cattle Industry’s Guidelines for the Care and Handling of Cattle.” The “Cattle Industry’s Guidelines for the Care and Handling of Cattle” is based on the “Producer Code for Cattle Care.” The Code, first developed in 1996, is a comprehensive set of “must-dos” for proper cattle care that includes the following:

  • Provide adequate food, water and care to protect cattle health and well-being.
  • Provide disease prevention practices to protect herd health.
  • Provide facilities that allow safe and humane movement and/or restraint of livestock.
  • Use appropriate methods to euthanize sick or injured livestock.
  • Provide personnel with training to properly handle and care for cattle.
  • Minimize stress when transporting cattle.

The Code is clear on another important point: persons who willfully mistreat animals will not be tolerated.

In 2003, the beef industry expanded the Code into a best practices guide. Developed through the interaction of animal health and well-being experts and cattle producer leaders, the “Cattle Industry’s Guidelines for the Care and Handling of Cattle” sets forth recommendations for every aspect of cattle production and provides producers a self-evaluation checklist to help improve their production practices. The Guidelines include best-management practices for feeding and nutrition, disease prevention practices and health care, identification, shelter and housing, cattle handling, transportation, non-ambulatory cattle, euthanasia and heat stress.

BQA Acknowledges Leaders for Applying Best Practices

For the first time in 2008, a National BQA Award was established to reward leaders in the industry who exemplify BQA principles and share their outstanding individual practices with the broader industry. Two producers were awarded the National BQA Award in 2008.

New BQA Programs Address Livestock Auction Markets and Transportation

In 2008, every auction market in the country received the checkoff-funded BQA DVD “Focal Point: An Auction Market Beef Quality Assurance Guide,” which demonstrates best practices for facility design and handling techniques. Cattle handling experts also conducted hands-on staff training sessions at livestock markets.

BQA’s Master Cattle Transporter Training program, launched in 2008, recognizes that cattle transporters play a critical role in the health and welfare of cattle by delivering cattle safely to their destination. The program emphasizes low-stress handling, frequent cattle checks when on the road and special care when transporting cattle during hot or cold weather conditions. Additionally, the program specifies that moving aids should replace electric prods and sick or weak cattle shouldn’t be accepted for transport, including debilitated thin animals, “downers” and animals that show symptoms of sickness. The National Trucking Association encourages its members to comply with these guidelines.

For more information about the BQA program, please visit National BQA programs are funded in part by The Beef Checkoff.

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Merck Animal Health Shares Progress on Zilmax and the Five-Step Plan for Responsible Beef

During the 2013 MSGA Annual Convention, during the Beef Production and Marketing Committee, Dr. Marshall Streeter, Merck Animal Health, presented attendees with some great information and an update on the recent events developing around Zilmax, a beta agonist used in cattle finish feeding for more efficient lean beef production, being pulled from the market after claims of animal lameness by Tyson Foods. The following is an update on the Zilmax follow-up from Merck Animal Health shared to provide you more insight on the steps that go into evaluating safety of animal feed products.Zilmax cattle feed beta agonist animal welfare

During the last 90 days, Merck Animal Health, with the input and oversight of its Advisory Board, has worked to implement its Five-Step Plan to Ensuring Responsible Beef and has made considerable progress. The findings that come as a result of the plan will add to the significant amount of data that already exists for Zilmax® (zilpaterol hydrochloride), including numerous animal safety and well-being trials. Zilmax is a feed supplement approved by the FDA and other regulatory authorities. While we have made considerable progress, it is too early to determine when Merck Animal Health will return Zilmax back to the market in the United States and Canada.

“At Merck Animal Health, we continually evaluate our processes and procedures across the entire company to ensure that we maintain the best science-based practices and procedures for the health and well-being of animals,” says KJ Varma, BVSc, Ph.D., Senior Vice President Global R&D, Merck Animal Health. “Our five-step plan is a direct reflection of that commitment to science. It also reflects our commitment to working with our industry partners to maintain the highest standards of care for the health and well-being of cattle. We are pleased to be able to tap into the vast knowledge and expertise of professionals from throughout the industry to help us carry out this significant undertaking.”

The implementation of the five-step plan has included the following key components.

Merck Animal Health Advisory Board
Formed in August, the Merck Animal Health Advisory Board is comprised of representatives from packers, large, medium and small cattle feeder operations, cow-calf producers, veterinarians, academia and industry consultants. In addition to helping the company maintain an open dialogue on animal well-being, beta agonist use and related matters, the objectives of the Board include:

  • Review all available animal safety and well-being research data on Zilmax
  • Review the existing Zilmax Quality Assurance program (ZQA) and make recommendations, as needed
  • Provide input on the certification and scientific audit processes; and
  • Review and provide guidance on best management practices for using Zilmax

The Advisory Board has provided input on, reviewed and approved all initiatives in support of the plan.

Certification Process
To help further ensure safe and effective product use by customers, a formal certification process has been developed. As part of the certification, every feedyard team member, nutritionist and veterinarian who uses Zilmax or provides consultative services on feeding Zilmax to cattle must be trained annually on the proper use of the product.

The training will focus on safety practices, product handling, mixing protocols, cattle management, product inventory, record keeping and clean-out procedures. Every certified operation will also be required to pass an initial homogeneity test to ensure proper mixing practices, as well as four additional feed mix tests throughout the year. Before a feedyard can participate in the Zilmax Field Evaluations, the operation will need to be certified.

Zilmax Field Evaluations
In addition to implementing the certification process, the company has also worked with its Advisory Board to develop and finalize the protocol for the field evaluations for Zilmax-fed and control cattle (previously noted as “scientific audit”), which are expected to begin in Q1 2014.

Guiding principles of the field evaluations include:

  • Observing cattle throughout the system – before and after receiving Zilmax – at the feedyard and at the packing plant
  • Evaluating the mobility of cattle by trained third-party experts utilizing an established mobility scoring system
  • Reviewing potential compounding factors, such as nutrition, transportation, receiving facilities, flooring surfaces, and cattle management and handling practices

The field evaluations will take place with the oversight of a well-known independent epidemiologist and veterinarian, who will serve as principal investigator and collect all data, analyze results and publicly communicate findings in support of the company’s commitment to transparency and communication.

“We at Merck Animal Health remain highly confident in the safety of Zilmax, which is supported by the results of more than 30 studies, totaling 65,000 cattle that were conducted by well-respected universities and third-party experts,” says Dr. Varma. “We believe the field evaluations we are conducting as part of the five-step plan will support the results of previous studies and the safety of the product, and we are confident that they will help create a greater understanding of the best management practices that are so vital to helping ensure the well-being of cattle.”

For additional information about the Five-Step Approach to Ensuring Responsible Beef, please visit:

ZILMAX has a withdrawal period 3 days prior to harvest. Not for use in animals intended for breeding. Do not allow horses or other equines access to feed containing zilpaterol. Do not use in veal calves. For complete safety information, refer to product label and ZILMAX website.

About Merck Animal Health
Today’s Merck is a global healthcare leader working to help the world be well. Merck Animal Health, known as MSD Animal Health outside the United States and Canada, is the global animal health business unit of Merck. Merck Animal Health offers veterinarians, farmers, pet owners and governments one of the widest range of veterinary pharmaceuticals, vaccines and health management solutions and services. Merck Animal Health is dedicated to preserving and improving the health, well-being and performance of animals. It invests extensively in dynamic and comprehensive R&D resources and a modern, global supply chain. Merck Animal Health is present in more than 50 countries, while its products are available in some 150 markets. For more information, visit

Merck Forward-Looking Statement
This news release includes “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of the safe harbor provisions of the United States Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These statements are based upon the current beliefs and expectations of Merck’s management and are subject to significant risks and uncertainties. If underlying assumptions prove inaccurate or risks or uncertainties materialize, actual results may differ materially from those set forth in the forward-looking statements.

Risks and uncertainties include but are not limited to, general industry conditions and competition; general economic factors, including interest rate and currency exchange rate fluctuations; the impact of pharmaceutical industry regulation and health care legislation in the United States and internationally; global trends toward health care cost containment; technological advances, new products and patents attained by competitors; challenges inherent in new product development, including obtaining regulatory approval; Merck’s ability to accurately predict future market conditions; manufacturing difficulties or delays; financial instability of international economies and sovereign risk; dependence on the effectiveness of Merck’s patents and other protections for innovative products; and the exposure to litigation, including patent litigation, and/or regulatory actions. Merck undertakes no obligation to publicly update any forward-looking statement, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise. Additional factors that could cause results to differ materially from those described in the forward-looking statements can be found in Merck’s 2012 Annual Report on Form 10-K and the company’s other filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) available at the SEC’s Internet site (


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