An Eye On Quality

U.S. AI companies add value to their programs through participation in Certified Semen Services

When you take a unit of semen out of your tank, do you ever wonder if it's healthy and correctly identified? How do you know the difference, anyway?

Whether you're a seedstock producer who needs a top bull collected or a commercial operator who has purchased semen for use in your herd, the answer to these questions is simple.

The best way for you to know the product you're buying or the collection services you're using conform to a minimum set of standards for health and semen identification is a program called Certified Semen Services, or CSS.

CSS came into being more than two decades ago when Missouri-based National Association of Animal Breeders (NAAB), which represents most of the largest semen companies in the country, developed AI industry standards to help insure the semen they produce is identified properly and free from diseases of importance.

"CSS is an auditing service whose mission is to reduce the risk of disease and to prevent sire and semen mis-identification," explains CSS Service Director Jere Mitchell. "Farmers and ranchers who inseminate their cattle with semen that has been produced in compliance with CSS standards automatically put into place a comprehensive control program that greatly diminishes the risk of introducing disease into their herds and problems associated with misidentified semen."

Any AI business engaged in the collection and processing of livestock semen may participate in the CSS program -- once they enter into an agreement with CSS. All regular members of NAAB are required to participate in CSS as a provision of their membership in the association. However, membership in NAAB is not a prerequisite for participation in CSS.

Currently, 36 AI businesses participate in the program. These companies range in size from large, private and cooperative AI centers to small, custom-collection businesses. CSS conducts an annual surprise audit of each of these companies, thoroughly reviewing their records and procedures and evaluating collection and storage systems. Information gathered from these audits helps CSS develop recommendations to correct weaknesses or problems and suggest areas of improvement. CSS requires that each company maintain accurate identification systems for semen from point of bull acquisition or collection, through distribution and first point of sale of semen.

One of the benefits to producers is CSS helps them maintain and improve their herd health programs. "AI has always been a good way of keeping your herd closed to the introduction of diseases, and by using CSS-certified semen, you can take your herd health program one step farther," says Mitchell. "Producers should remember that effective disease control often depends on maintaining healthy semen donors and on the vigilance and thoroughness of the health program of the AI center supplying you the semen. If these two things aren't done correctly, you run the risk of introducing a costly disease into your cow herd."

Surprisingly, adds Mitchell, many livestock breeders mistakenly assume that just because a bull has semen in the marketplace, that the semen has met health standards and is safe for use in their herds. This is a dangerous assumption. Because health programs are not equal, breeders need to choose carefully their supplier of semen. Producers can eliminate the guesswork by choosing "Health Certified Semen" from a CSS-participating organization.

To be designated as "Health Certified," the semen must be produced under conditions that meet or exceed the "CSS Minimum Requirements for Disease Control of Semen Produced for AI." These requirements outline specific testing procedures for bulls and mount animals before they enter isolation, during the isolation period and throughout residency at an AI center. Specific diseases tested for in the CSS Sire Health Program include tuberculosis, brucellosis, leptospirosis, trichomoniasis, campylobacteriosis and BVD virus. The requirements also deal with general sanitary conditions and specify the use of antibiotics in semen processing to control other specific microorganisms.

So how do you know if the semen you're buying is CSS certified?

First, look for the registered CSS logo. (CSS Logo) This is imprinted on the semen package or straws. Only those packages (straws) of semen that have met CSS requirements may have the CSS logo imprinted on them.

Second, look for the CSS logo on the AI company's business cards, advertisements or related materials; a company may only use this symbol on these items if it markets exclusively CSS-certified semen. Keep in mind, too, that many custom freezing businesses, while in full compliance with CSS standards, may not exclusively process CSS-certified semen. In this case, these participating organizations may advertise using the words "CSS-approved custom freezing service available."

Third, ask the semen company if they are a participant in the CSS program.

"Most major AI centers in the United States typically exceed CSS requirements," says Mitchell, "which means that they are not only in compliance with existing state regulations but also foreign regulations. This allows U.S. seedstock producers the ability to market their genetics into other countries, because they've already met and exceeded the sanitary regulations of those markets.

"In addition," adds Mitchell, "the success of the CSS program has enabled the national animal breeding industry to regulate itself without direct government involvement. It is important that cattle producers realize the benefits of the CSS program. When it comes to protecting your investment, and getting the best results possible, they should look for the CSS logo every time they buy semen or have bulls collected. It's a simple thing, but one that can make a significant return on your time, money and labor invested." -- END

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