Ranch practices affect product quality

As quality concerns make headlines, Dr. Jerry Bell predicts food processors eventually will require ranchers to maintain individual animal records on vaccinations, pesticide usage and other treatments. “This ‘trickle-down’ effect is a result of consumers demanding a safe product, free of chemical and microbial contamination. Processors are realizing the need to prove not only the origin of animals, but also the treatments received while still at the farm,” said Dr. Bell, food safety specialist for the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC), the state’s livestock health regulatory agency. Some European trading partners now accept imported products that can be traced back to the farm, Dr. Bell said. And, that trend is expected to grow, he noted. Dr. Bell urged ranchers to consider the pros and cons of individual animal identification, versus the more simple premise identification concept. Among the identification devices available are numbered or electronic eartags (or brucellosis eartags, if the animals are vaccinated or tested), or microchips that can be implanted in or near the ear. (Records should include microchip implant site information, to ensure the device is removed during processing.) Dr. Bell said brands are acceptable to identify the herd, but fire brands should be placed high on the tailhead of the animal, to avoid damaging the value of the hide. Other points to consider: * Be sure to follow the specified withholding periods after treating animals with pesticides, antibiotics or other products. Each product will provide specific information on the label or the package insert regarding withholding intervals or other restrictions. Residues can cause meat to be unusable. * If the product allows, administer injected medications or vaccines, subcutaneously, or just under the skin. Intramuscular “shots” can damage meat, and if this method is required, place injections in the neck area, rather than the hip, where the cuts of meat are more valuable. * Products administered to cows also can affect unborn or nursing calves. “Slaughter buyers may not immediately pay higher prices to ranchers who follow these practices, but at some point, they may penalize ranchers who don’t,” Dr. Bell said.

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