Beef Issues Quarterly Archive

Q & A with Dr. John Maas on Beef Quality Assurance and the Pneumatic Dart Gun

by Brandi Buzzard Frobose, Associate Director, Issues Communication, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff 

Beef Quality Assurance is one of many resources that cattlemen and women utilize to help raise safer beef for a nutrition and animal welfare conscious consumer base. Recently, the BQA program directors issued an advisory statement regarding pneumatic dart guns that are used for antibiotic administration on some farms and ranches. These dart guns, which have raised concerns in some areas of the beef industry, and their implications are being examined thoroughly by beef industry thought leaders, including the members of the BQA Advisory Board. The Beef Issues Quarterly editorial staff spoke with Dr. John Maas, chair of the advisory board, for his insight on the dart gun advisory and the direction that BQA is taking.

Beef Issues Quarterly (BIQ): The BQA program has a rich history of helping develop and promote improved on-farm production practices that lead to improved beef quality for consumers. What is your current role with the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program? 

John Maas (JM): I am currently chair the BQA Advisory Board. I have been on the board for more than 20 years and I have one more year left in my current term on the board.

BIQ: Could you explain the state and national partnership that exists within the BQA program?

JM: The BQA Advisory Board works with another extremely important group of individuals that comprise the State BQA Coordinators. This is the group of individuals that coordinate and execute BQA trainings in their state. They work with academic scientists and educators to develop educational materials that are tailored to their state’s producers. They work with allied industries, local sales yards, veterinarians, local businesses and local cattle associations to fund and deliver BQA education and certifications. Beef Quality Assurance is fortunate to have corporate sponsorship from Boehringer-Ingleheim, which is particularly helpful in sponsoring producers’ access to on-line training and certification. The whole BQA effort is based on partnerships between local, state, national (CBB and Federation), and corporate arenas. This list of partners is not all-inclusive, but serves as examples of the many ways interested parties have worked together to amplify the BQA message.

BIQ: Why should cattlemen invest time and resources in becoming BQA certified?

JM: First, it is the right thing to do! Beef Quality Assurance information helps to make every producer aware of the many changing aspects of beef production. These include legal, ethical, environmental, food safety, animal health and welfare, production efficiencies, worker safety and consumer perception considerations. It is all about building quality into beef at every step of the production cycle and beyond. The concepts and techniques highlighted in BQA educational materials give guidelines that are important to the way cattle are managed and handled and to meet the needs for the health and welfare of the cattle, food safety, producer efficiency, and consumer perception.

BIQ: What do you see as challenges the BQA program must continue to focus on in the near future?

JM: There are several major opportunities to build upon past BQA efforts. The issue of antibiotic use in cattle and the concerns about antibiotic resistance in the general human population are such opportunities. Accelerated training addressing these issues will be an important opportunity. I think the beef production sectors have a great story to relate to consumers about antibiotic and animal drug stewardship, but we need to be able to back that up with evidence of training, adoption and certification. Another area is environmental sustainability. Again, if you want to see healthy and productive wildlife communities, come to my ranch or to a local ranch in your area where grasslands are managed for the cattle and see that all the other species thrive there as well. We need to be sure we can back up our assertions with evidence that we are pushing the envelope ever forward. Another opportunity is documentation of all the thousands of producers who have actively adopted BQA concepts into their operations. This documentation needs to be in a location that is accessible by our customers, so they can be assured that adoption is widespread. That information needs to tally not only the number of producers, but also the number of cattle being managed by BQA certified operations. The task of BQA efforts is to make sure all aspects are covered—food safety, cattle health, cattle welfare, environmental stewardship, economic efficiencies for producers, transportation, beef quality and consumer confidence.

BIQ: Could you explain the development process around the advisory board's recent pneumatic dart advisory statement?

JM: The BQA Advisory Board has discussed the use of darts to deliver drugs to cattle for a long time. Over the last several years the issue has become a higher priority due to an increased use of these technologies. Additionally, product defects have been found at the packing plant secondary to the use of these technologies. This is analogous to the injection site lesions addressed by BQA audits and subsequent education and management guidelines developed many years ago. The advisory board, state coordinators, and many others see the need for education and guidelines for use of these technologies. Unfortunately, the data and information needed to develop these guidelines based on peer-reviewed science is lacking. The advisory statement was a list of real and potential problems that might be associated with or caused by the use of darts and a call for help to generate or share data and information that is essential to developing science-based guidelines. It was also the conclusion of the statement that the companies manufacturing, selling and promoting these methods of drug and product delivery have the responsibility and the obligation to develop the data to address efficacy, safety, animal welfare, food safety and all other concerns as compared to current BQA approved methods of drug/product administration. The advisory board has never had concerns expressed about the appropriate use of darting techniques in emergency situations under the supervision and/or advice of the herd veterinarian(s).

BIQ: What do you see as the primary purpose(s) of the advisory statement?

JM: The statement was a call for help to generate and/or share information relative to the use of these dart delivery technologies that can be used to develop guidelines that meet or exceed current BQA criteria for efficacy, animal safety, worker safety, animal welfare, animal health, food safety and all the other concerns that BQA education needs to address. It also stated clearly that until the data and information is generated and/or shared the guidelines for use could not be developed. Therefore, current use of this technology does not meet BQA injectable product administration guidelines.

BIQ: What has been the general response from producers and their veterinarians upon the release of the advisory statement?

JM: The response has been very positive. In fact, one of the major dart technology companies sent out a press release recognizing problems do exist and pledging their support and efforts to move this issue forward in a positive manner. There have been a small handful of critical comments, but even these individuals have offered some good insights into how to proceed. The most important point is that many people and interests are now engaged and that is always a positive situation. A journey of a thousand miles always begins with a single step—the statement has been successful in getting that journey started.

BIQ: Is there any additional information you would like to share with Beef Issues Quarterly readers?

JM: The BQA effort has been an extremely effective tool to build quality into beef products—not just to rely on inspections at the end of the process. All across America, ranchers recognize they are producing high-quality food for consumers—not just selling calves or growing stockers. This is a huge difference between cattle producers and many other industries.

Additional Resources


Tags: Beef Issues Quarterly, Questions and Answers, Winter 2015

December 21, 2015