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A new era begins for meat industry research and education

John Oncken
The new $59 million  facility is now open to begin the new era.

It was billed as a “celebration” but as happens at most meetings these days, no one came. The event being celebrated on November 6th was the completion of the new Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery (MSABD) building by the UW–Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS).

The entirely virtual event included a host of speakers all extolling the importance of the meat industry in Wisconsin that employs some 16,250 workers and has total annual sales of $8.6 billion. There are 241 official meat establishments and 51 custom exempt meat establishments operating in Wisconsin.

Who cares?

Most of us consumers give little (if any) thought as to where our steaks, pork chops and brats even come from or whether they are clean and good to eat. We assume all is well in the many steps our meat has taken from farm to our plate. 

And so it is – partially due to the over 90 years efforts of the UW-Madison MSABD program (known as the meat science and muscle biology program until recently) that has conducted scientific research aimed at improved meat quality and food safety and trained the next generation of meat and food industry leaders through classroom and Extension-based education. The research, teaching and outreach of the MSABD program helps support the state’s meat industry, and the new MSABD building expands this capacity.

The former Bucky’s Butchery is now closed.

90 years ago

In 1930 the now replaced “meat lab” building was erected per the direction of UW-Madison’s Dr. Gus Bohstedt as he saw the need for a laboratory in which to slaughter experimental livestock. In addition to meeting this initial need, the meat lab attracted talented faculty, staff, and students. And, the program flourished with products, meat, ideas, discovery and, most importantly – people.

“For all that time the building served the University and State well, supporting the Land Grant Mission and the Wisconsin Idea through cutting edge teaching, research, and outreach. So it is with great sadness, gratitude and celebration the Meat Science & Muscle Biology era is coming to an end as signified by the last inspected animal harvest occurring last Monday morning,” the provided history says. 

Varsity Meats provides a variety of meat products in the onsite store at the Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery Building at UW–Madison in Madison, Wis.

The new era

“Continuation of the beloved UW Meat Science program has begun a new era as the Meat Science & Animal Biologics Discovery program. The harvest and meat processing equipment will take a short journey from 1805 Linden Drive to 1933 Observatory Drive.

More important than the physical move was the transfer of the history, values and future growth. It is with great excitement, enthusiasm, and optimism that we begin the next 90-year era striving to follow the program’s predecessors while blazing a new trail in uncharted territory….animal biologics." Dr. Bohstedt probably had these same emotions 90 years ago.

One of two big lecture halls facing a temperature controlled meat demonstration area.

More than a building

UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank says the facility is so much more than a building. “It’s an ecosystem for collaboration that’s going to bring together researchers from many different fields. In partnership with industry, this building will help us develop new technologies, solve problems that industry partners bring to us... and our students will be taught in some of the most unique classrooms on campus, built around a chilled demonstration space. They will also for the first time ever, have the opportunity to bring their ideas to the marketplace in a professionally managed retail store, Bucky's Varsity Meats. I couldn't be prouder of this wonderful addition to our campus.”

Thanks

Kate VandenBosch, CALS Dean thanked the members of the meat science advisory committee and the donors who gave so generously (about half of the total $59 million) to help support the construction, along with the faculty, staff and students in the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences, and throughout the University who have contributed to the design, coordination, and planning of this remarkable building.

American Foods Group Harvest Floor at the Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery Building at UW–Madison in Madison, Wis.

New and best

The new MSABD building will provide state-of-the-art teaching, research and outreach capabilities with unparalleled sanitary design, animal handling, harvest, processing, and microbial investigation capabilities. The building also houses Bucky’s Varsity Meats retail store (formerly Bucky’s Butchery).

A few more facts:

  • June 2009: Industry leaders and alumni form a Meat Science Advisory Board ...August 2012: UW Board of Regents approves project;
  • January 2017: Construction starts;
  • October 2020: Faculty move-in complete (6 faculty, 3 affiliate faculty and 8 full- or part-time staff).  Total square footage of  67,540  square feet;
  • The building houses a USDA-inspected meat and poultry processing facility, as well as a separate Biosafety Level 2 (BSL-2) processing and laboratory facility for food safety research. Together, these two processing plants enables state-of-the-art, harvest-to-package processing of meat and poultry products and are at the core of the research, teaching and outreach/training that will be offered to students and industry clients;
  • Overall cost of $57.1M with slightly less than half coming from the state and the remainder from gifts from 256 donors  and program revenue.
Mitch Monson, retail operations manager for Bucky’s Varsity Meats, holds a prime rib at the store inside the Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery Building at UW–Madison in Madison, Wis.

Yes, $59 million is a lot of money but little enough to insure human health and food safety and to find new meat products to compete with the onset of fake meats and ever-changing human tastes. And yes, I want meat from a processor that knows what they are doing in contrast to the days of on-the-farm guess and by-golly farm butchering. Visit meatsciences.cals.wisc.edu for more information.

Let the new era begin!

John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications,  He can be reached at 608-837-7406 or e-mail him at jfodairy2@gmail.com