November 15, 2003
The Sheep Safety and Quality Assurance program was developed to ensure that products generated by the sheep industry are safe and of the highest quality possible.
By Tharran E. Gaines
Nov. 2003 -- Quality assurance specialists in the manufacturing industry have a few figures they like to quote when it comes to quality control. Specifically, they claim that it costs $1 to prevent defects in production; $10 to fix defects and $100 to repair damage at the customer level.
Of course, we all know how true that is. Surely everyone has had some kind of product they?ve had to return or have repaired on warranty. For the manufacturer, it meant shipping charges, dealer repair bills, warranty claims or all of the above. Now, try to recall how many times you?ve made a second purchase from a manufacturer that has disappointed you or failed to service or repair their product to your satisfaction. It takes a lot of PR and advertising to change a tarnished opinion. That?s why a growing number of manufacturers are adopting a total quality management program to address problems before they start.
Well, things aren?t really that much different in the livestock industry. In effect, livestock producers are also producing a product -- even if it doesn?t come from an assembly line. And the producer suffers just as much from a defect or bad impression. If you don?t believe it, look at the effect one cow, diagnosed with mad cow disease, has had on the Canadian beef industry.
Total quality management, in effect, is the driving force behind the newly developed Sheep Safety and Quality Assurance (SSQA) Program. Developed at Colorado State University for the American Sheep Industry Association, the program is designed to ensure that consumer products generated by the U.S. sheep industry are safe and of the highest quality possible.
?This is a structured program based on quality management principles that are verifiable so that producers can demonstrate that they are doing everything in their power to manage the safety and quality of products,? says Keith Belk, an associate professor of meat science at Colorado State University and one of the authors of the program. ?One of the primary reasons for having such a structured program is to prevent it from becoming regulated on the government level. Plus, in our view, it?s just the right way to do things.?
Although the manual addresses several health and safety issues related to sheep production, including parasite control, shearing and sanitation, Belk says many of the critical issues are feed-related. In fact, the first section in the manual discusses the use of feed additives and animal health products, beginning with the admonition, ?Do not feed prohibited mammalian-derived protein sources. (Meat and bone meal or any other prohibited protein sources derived from mammalian muscle or bone tissue cannot be fed.).?
?At the time this program was developed, and even today, effective pre-harvest management strategies for use by producers to control pathogens did not really exist,? says Belk. ?So, even though we included some provisions in the new manual to address pathogen contamination, initial emphasis was placed on other food safety related factors. That includes things like the withdrawal of antibiotics, off-label use of products, etc. in respect to feed safety.?
Other chapters go on to explain how meat damage can occur if medical injections are given in locations other than in the neck; how the use of pesticides can affect sheep safety, and how to safely store and harvest feed crops, plus numerous other topics. The manual also discusses record-keeping procedures and includes record forms that can be duplicated. The appendix even includes a withdrawal time chart that lists all commonly used drugs with their required withdrawal period.
?The American Sheep Industry Association began development of an industry-wide quality assurance program back in 1991,? says Paul Rodgers, deputy director of policy. ?Since then, the ASI, through cooperative agreements with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Colorado State University, University of Minnesota and Texas A&M University conducted a quality audit of meat, wool and milk from U.S. sheep. In the final report of that audit, industry problem areas were identified and intervention strategies to assist in the reduction of quality challenges were developed. However, we believe education is one of the best strategies for making improvements in the U.S. sheep industry, which is what this program is all about.?
According to Rodgers, the program has three levels of implementation. Level 1 training is designed to educate producers regarding the basics of assuring safety and quality in American lamb products.
?It?s really to assure that producers understand the concepts and reasoning behind the development of the guidelines and the importance of their implementation,? he says.
?The Level 2 training is designed to educate producers, assisting them in the development of mission statements, production flow diagrams, objectives and procedures that will be needed to implement the SSQA program,? he adds. ?Certification at Level 2 applies to the producer, not to the production unit.?
Finally, Level 3 training is designed to verify that producers have implemented the SSQA program and that they are following the guidelines outlined in the manual.
?In effect, Levels 1, 2 and 3 involve participation, certification and verification respectively,? Rodgers relates. ?In reality, the program isn?t unlike one that any manufacturer would use. There are things you have to do to comply with the law; and there are things you can do to ensure that the quality is there. The safety issues are things people should be doing anyway,? he continues. ?This just gives producers a way to document them and put them into a plan.?
Like Rodgers, Keith Belk says one of the best features of the SSQA program is the ability to document every aspect of sheep production and create a ?paper trail? for all the good management practices that are encouraged in the manual. The key at this point, he says, is getting people trained and certified.
?Our first step was to develop the manual,? says Rodgers. ?Next, we had a training session for trainers. We had 42 people from a variety of geographic locations graduate from that session. Those people are now certified to train producers. Finally, we trained auditors or reviewers who can go out and provide certification. In other words, once a grower has completed the Level 3 training, the auditor can visit the production unit to assure that appropriate objectives and procedures are in place.?
?The way the program works,? says Belk, ?is the producers receive training at level 1, which means they are knowledgeable about sheep safety and quality assurance. In step 2, they implement it on their farm or production unit. Finally, in step 3, they make a request through Paul Rodgers to have a third-party reviewer sent in for verification.?
Richard Drake, who operates Drake Livestock Co., in Windsor, Colo., has not only implemented the program in his sheep and cattle feedlot, but he has been certified as a SSQA trainer, as well.
?We already had a lot of the steps in the program in effect at our facility before this was introduced,? Drake relates. ?But I have learned a few things from the training. For example, I?ve probably done a better job with my records since I participated in the training program.
?It should be very beneficial to the industry,? he adds. ?It?ll just be a matter of getting other producers to voluntarily participate.?
Although the training process is just getting started, Belk hasn?t wavered in his attempt to anticipate and answer questions. Thanks to a grant from the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center, Belk and his colleagues are taking two new steps. One is to modify the training manual based on input from trainers who are currently using the material. The second is to set up a demonstration of the program on a couple of production units.
?There are really two purposes for setting up a model,? he relates. ?The first is to show people how to implement the program; but, secondly, it?s to get some idea as to what the cost of implementation will be,? he adds, noting that the model will also be used to provide additional training for the reviewers.
?One of the first questions we get asked is, ?What is this going to cost me??? he continues. ?In one respect, that shouldn?t matter, because you can ask yourself how much the loss of demand can cost the sheep industry. On the other hand, it is a reasonable question, and it?s one we want to try to answer.?
In the meantime, Belk says sheep producers now have the most sophisticated safety and quality assurance programs in the industry.
?It?s a pretty encompassing program,? he notes, ?and if we have some success in getting it implemented voluntarily, it will be a model system for anybody, including other livestock groups and other countries.?
?I?d like to see us get to a point where growers are asking for the training instead of us just scheduling classes,? Rodgers concludes. ?However, we have seen higher participation in some of the training sessions than we expected. We have a number of people who have already been trained on Level 1 and Level 2. So we?re making progress.?
To learn more about the Sheep Safety and Quality Assurance Program, or to request training, contact the American Sheep Industry Association at (303) 771-3500 or Colorado State University at (970) 491-6672.
SHEEP SAFETY AND QUALITY ASSURANCE PROGRAM
Consumers are very interested in the safety of the food they eat as well as the quality of the products they buy. Quality and product safety are issues for which the U.S. sheep industry and its producers are held accountable.
The American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) and Colorado State University developed the Sheep Safety and Quality Assurance (SSQA) program to ensure that consumer products generated by the U.S. sheep industry are safe and of the highest quality possible. Experts from around the country have completed a ?train-the-trainer? program and are now conducting sessions for producers.
ASI encourages state associations to include an SSQA training session at local meetings. (Participants can complete Level 1 training in just a few hours.) Interested individuals should contact ASI at (303) 771-3500 to obtain materials and one of the following individuals to arrange a session. (Note: If a trainer is not listed for your state, please contact Judy Brown at ASI, (303) 771-3500, ext. 46.)
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