Dee Griffin, DVM, MS, now serves as director of the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Center located at West Texas A&M University in Canyon.
When historians look back at the beef industry in the 1980s and 1990s, they’ll recognize the beef quality assurance (BQA) program as a pivotal factor in restoring consumer confidence, halting a steady decline in beef demand and setting a new course for beef production in the United States. And when they look at the people involved, veterinarian Dee Griffin will appear as one of those whose passion and commitment helped foster major changes in attitudes, philosophies and production practices.
In recognition of his years of dedication to animal well-being and beef quality, and his overall contributions and influence across the livestock community, two organizations this year recognized Griffin with major awards.
The Cattle Feeders Hall of Fame (CFHOF) this year presented Griffin with its Industry Leadership Award. He is the first veterinarian selected for the prestigious award since its inception in 2010. Founding sponsors for the Cattle Feeders Hall of Fame include Merck Animal Health, Osborn-Barr and Drovers (a Farm Journal Media publication).
Soon after the CFHOF award, the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) and Merck Animal Health presented Griffin with the Mentor of the Year Award, recognizing his significant contributions to the bovine medicine industry and his commitment to mentoring the next generations of bovine veterinarians. Each year, the award is given out at the AABP Annual Conference to recognize an individual who has played a role in educating, supporting and advancing the careers of future bovine veterinarians.
“We admire Dr. Griffin’s contributions to veterinary medicine and his ongoing passion for being a resource for students,” says Norman Stewart, DVM, livestock and technical services manager for Merck Animal Health. “We commend him for his ability to engage with and share his experience and knowledge with students and young veterinarians.”
"Dr. Griffin is dedicated to the next generation and never quits giving back, said Bob Smith, DVM, a long-time friend and colleague. “He is always encouraging and uplifting students and instilling in them a deep passion for the beef industry and vet medicine.”
Griffin played a key role in founding the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program, has been a member of the BQA advisory board since it began.
The BQA program began primarily in response to drug residues, which were a common problem in beef at the time. A concerted industry effort, with Griffin leading the charge, educated producers and veterinarians about antibiotic uses, dosages, extra-label use and withdrawal times. Drug residues soon became rare, but the BQA program was just getting started. The first National Beef Quality Audit, conducted in 1991, revealed significant problems with too much fat, injection-site lesions and inconsistent, often unfavorable eating quality. Again, Griffin assumed a leadership role in educating veterinarians and producers on proper injection sites, methods, dosages and other management decisions affecting beef quality.
Raised on a cow-calf operation in western Oklahoma, Griffin took an early interest in beef production, which led to his completion of his DVM degree at Oklahoma State University in 1976 and MS degree in pathology and ruminant nutrition from Purdue. Following graduation, he practiced beef-cattle medicine, mostly in feedyard settings, until taking a faculty position at the University of Nebraska’s Great Plains Veterinary Education Center (GPVEC). After 25 years at the GPVEC, Griffin retired in 2016 and assumed a new role as clinical professor and director of the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Center located at West Texas A&M University in Canyon.
In addition to teaching classes, Griffin now focuses the Texas A&M “Serving Every Texan Every Day” (SETED) program for the Texas Panhandle. The program aims to improve connections between Panhandle veterinarians, potential veterinary students, livestock owners, managers and professionals. One goal is to recruit more veterinary students who want to return to rural communities. “If we want vets to be drawn to rural America, we must recruit them from rural America,” he says.
Since the first audit, drug residues and injection-site lesions have become rare and growing numbers of producers have adopted low-stress handling methods. We still have work to do though, especially in antibiotic use,” Griffin says. With the public increasingly concerned about antibiotic resistance in pathogens, the industry needs to respond to protect demand and avoid tighter regulations.
“The overuse of feed-grade antibiotics such as chlortetracycline (CTC) and sulfamethazine make no sense,” Griffin says. “Feeding CTC to stressed cattle to prevent or treat pneumonia beyond the single five day regimen indicated on the label isn’t supported by research. And feeding CTC with sulfamethazine has absolutely no research data to support its use. I am concerned continued misuse will cause the loss of CTC for use as a control for anaplasmosis, and CTC is the only product available for feed use that has a label indication for control the disease.”
The lack of consistent supplies of weaned, preconditioned calves available for the cattle-feeding sector provides an ongoing source of frustration, Griffin says. Feeding companies and Extension programs have helped develop verified supply chains, but “these efforts are a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed. If all calves were weaned before leaving their birth operation, antibiotic use might be cut three to four times, maybe more.”
Griffin credits some of his early mentors with helping foster what became the BQA philosophy. He worked for Hitch Enterprises in Oklahoma for several years, and often quotes that company’s late CEO Ladd Hitch, saying “If it is not right, make it right.” He also cites long-time Texas Cattle Feeders Chairman Richard McDonald for developing the original six summary points for BQA, which fit on a note card. “All six points were aimed at following the rules,” he says. “A rule for feeding high quality, clean, uncontaminated feed, a rule for following the labels for FDA approved medications, a rule for following USDA approved vaccines, a rule for following EPA approved pesticides, a rule for keeping records of product use and a rule for treating cattle as precious creatures from God. It doesn’t take a complicated book, just thoughtful, responsible cattle management.”
One of the beauties of the BQA approach, Griffin says, is that protecting beef quality benefits the entire chain, from rancher to consumer. “It seems to me, the six BQA points should help prevent mistakes, which cost producers in terms of performance, gain and management efficiency. The simplicity of focusing on avoiding cattle-husbandry mistakes allowed the program to effectively trickle in all directions.” Consumers, he says, have a right to expect safe and wholesome food from all U.S. agriculture. BQA allows them to base purchase decisions on flavor, price and convenience, without worrying about safety.
Griffin believes the word “quality” in BQA is connected to providing people with food the way
God make it. “God didn’t put defects in cattle,” he says. “We did. If there are residues, bacterial contamination, physical hazards such as broken needles, tough meat at an injection site, it’s our fault.” Also, if we abuse cattle physically, mentally, nutritionally or environmentally, “they take it out of our bank account.
There are fewer and fewer people in the U.S. with any relationship to agriculture, Griffin notes. “BQA is one of the ways we help folks who don’t know much about us understand we care a great deal about the stewardship and responsibility we have for cattle and the land on which they are raised. We are addressing Mr. Hitch’s pragmatic statement: If it is not right, make it right.”