National Beef Quality Audit identified industry challenges and changes

Challenges were ranked by production and market sectors, quality was defined and harvest floor assessments were made on carcasses.

The National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA) is funded with Beef Checkoff dollars to assess consumer attitudes about beef. It provides a snapshot of current quality status for the beef industry and is used as a benchmarking tool for quality improvement strategy. Top quality challenges as ranked by the various sectors of the beef industry (feeders, packers, retailers, foodservice, and allied industry/government employees) were food safety; eating satisfaction; how and where cattle are raised; amount of lean, fat and bone; weight and size; and genetics. This has changed from previous audits where issues related more to uniformity, palatability, tenderness, carcass weight and external fat.

In terms of how producers think they can influence quality, overall animal handling ranked the highest. But the definition of quality meant something different to the various sectors within the industry and this can cause confusion for consumers. Quality to a cattle feeder was defined as live animal characteristics and factors that influence feeding profitability. Packers defined quality as carcass characteristics and sub-primal cuts of value to the wholesaler. Retailers indicated quality was factors that influence consumer preferences and purchase decisions. Consumers are more interested than in the past in how the beef they eat is raised and where it comes from.

Results from the harvest floor assessment indicated that 97.5 percent of cattle are individually identified. There was an increase in the use of electronic tags in 2011 (20.1 percent) compared to 2005 (3.5 percent). Lot visual tags (85.5 percent) and individual visual tags (50.6 percent) were the most prevalent type of identification. Black-hided cattle were the predominant type marketed at 61.1 percent. The use of butt brands (35.2 percent) and side brands (9.0 percent) were up slightly compared to 2005. No mud and/or manure on hides was observed in 50.8 percent of cattle. More carcasses were free of bruises (77 percent) in 2011 compared to 2005 (64.8 percent) and the most prevalent site for bruises was the loin.

The NBQA also drives the Beef Quality Assurance producer education programs. Improvements have been made in the fed steer and heifer portion of the beef industry compared to problems identified in previous (1991, 1995, 2000, 2005) Audits. Things like injection site lesions, hide damage due to manure and mud, hot iron brands, and liver condemnations were not mentioned in the 2011 results. Kudos to producers for previously addressing these issues.

Michigan State University Extension programs shared results from the 2011 NBQA with beef producers during recent meetings.

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