During a recent Pasture to Plate tour through Kansas to better acquaint chefs and other foodservice people with how and who raises the beef they serve to their customers, K-State’s Dan Thomson talked to the chefs about culture. Not the kind that involves expensive wine and very white tablecloths, but the kind that a leader establishes at the workplace and instills in the crew, whether it be a restaurant kitchen or the working pens.
Thomson called it the culture of doing things right, and he used the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program as an example of how beef producers have adopted proactive management practices and, more importantly, a proactive and positive culture that makes adoption of those management practices possible, to produce better beef.
That’s important, he said, because consumers increasingly want assurance and documentation that our animal practices are appropriate. Citing research that McDonald’s did several years ago, Thomson said that consumers define safe food as coming from animals that are healthy, and they define a healthy animal as one raised in a system of good animal welfare.
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The chefs got a lot of information during the tour, and Thomson added to the knowledge base. He told the chefs that beef producers who are responsible for 85% of the cattle population in Kansas are now BQA certified, either through face-to-face training or through an online BQA course. Using animal handling as an example of the effectiveness of the BQA program, Thomson told the chefs that under the program, an acceptable level for use of hot shots is 10%.
“When we do assessments, we do 4%,” he said. “Four percent of the cattle in the state of Kansas get touched with a hot shot. Our producers do a great job of handling their animals and we have the documentation to prove it.”
That’s important, he said, because as has often been discussed in various BEEF online forums, consumers are removed and detached from the realities of food animal production. “Animal welfare issues started with people not wanting to use animals for research,” he told the chefs, “then it parlayed into this human-animal bond.”
Part of the reason there is such a strong human-animal bond in the U.S. could be that in 1980, 25% of Americans lived alone. In 2010, 50% of Americans lived alone. “What did we replace the significant other with? Fluffy. These aren’t companion animals, they’re companions,” Thomson said.
Some consumers simply can’t make the distinction between Fluffy and an animal raised for food. But most can and those are the consumers we need to be concerned about. That’s because, as Thomson emphatically told the chefs, we’re all on the same team and we all have skin in the game.
“Whether you’re McDonald’s or whether you’re at your own private restaurant or at your own farm, when the beef industry is attacked, we’re all attacked. And what’s amazing to me, the consumer is also attacked,” he said.
How’s the culture on your operation? Are you BQA certified? If a busload of chefs showed up at your place, would you be able to demonstrate and document that your management practices are proactive and progressive?
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