“We need to preserve our social license to produce food. It’s a reality we all have to face and deal with,” says Logan Bower, who hosted the Dairy Animal Care and Quality Assurance (DACQA) producer certification “preview” October 15 at his 500-cow dairy in Blain, Perry County, Pennsylvania. Long before the undercover HSUS videos depicted mistreatment of “downer” dairy cows at a beef plant and auction barns, a producer-led effort – the National Dairy Animal Well-Being Initiative (NDAWI) – was already underway, working to develop its recently finalized principles and guidelines.
Through his involvement in the NDAWI coalition since 2005, and in his positions as president of the Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania (PDMP) and a director on the Pennsylvania Beef Council board, Bower saw an opportunity to bring stakeholders together in Pennsylvania and take an underutilized program –Dairy Beef Quality Assurance – and tailor it for dairy.
The result – Dairy Animal Care and Quality Assurance or DACQA – ties two concepts together: dairy animal well-being and food safety/quality. The two concepts are “synergistic” because Bower says the condition of dairy market cows at the end of their productive life is a reflection of animal care, handling and marketing decisions, as is the quality of the beef harvested from these market dairy cows.
Those attending the DACQA preview learned that a 2007 National Dairy Market Cow Beef Audit, conducted by seven universities on behalf of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, showed 41 percent of cows marketed from dairy herds were below body condition score 2.0 and 63 percent were below BCS 2.5. The national audit also showed lameness among dairy cows culled for beef had risen from 23 percent in 1994 to 39 percent in 1999 to 49 percent in 2007. These are animals that pose a greater potential risk for beef safety and quality issues as well as the potential to draw negative attention from animal activists.
“This is about dairy farmers putting their best foot forward and having a program to certify to consumers that we take care of our animals,” Bower says.
Thirty people, half of them dairy producers, responded to invitations to participate in the training “preview.” The group also included veterinarians, representatives of the dairy and beef marketing sectors, dairy checkoff, a retail trade organization, and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, including Secretary Dennis C. Wolff, who attended the morning session.
“In Pennsylvania, 50% of the beef supply comes from dairy cows,” says Beef Council representative Chris Jeffcoat, highlighting the $300 to $425 (per cow) that is left on the table when producers sell animals in poor condition. “This is a program to help the quality conscious dairy producer stay profitable and stay in business, and, at the same time, it’s a way to demonstrate to consumers that we’re doing the right things.” PD