Initial results from National Beef Audit 2005, funded in part by checkoff investments in the Beef Quality Assurance Program, are in and offer U.S. cattlemen insight into beef quality successes and future challenges over which they have some or all control.
Identified in the new audit as the top three quality successes since the 2000 audit were: (1) improved microbiological safety; (2) improved cattle genetics and beef of higher quality; and (3) fewer injection-site lesions. The rankings are from interviews with beef end-users, including exporters, purveyors, foodservice and retail channels.
Of note to producers, as more foreign markets reopen to U.S. beef, was the response from beef exporters on the question, "What one quality attribute could U.S. cattlemen change to make it easier for you to export beef products?." Exporters' response: "source and age verification," followed by "more marbling."
Asked to cite "the gold standard" for high-quality beef in foreign markets, exporters ranked U.S. Prime No. 1, followed by U.S. Choice. As for the perception foreign buyers have about U.S. beef flavor and tenderness, 100% of those surveyed rated tenderness as "very good." Seventy percent rated the flavor of U.S. beef as "excellent," while 30% gave the rating of "very good."
As for new opportunities in the "natural" market, respondents predicted just over a 14% increase in domestic consumer demand for "natural" beef products in the next 10 years, while international demand is expected to grow by just over 10%.
"Lack of uniformity/consistency in quality" was ranked by end-users as the No. 1 defect in the U.S. beef industry. That lack was further defined by four things: (presence) of marbling; tenderness; palatability; and inconsistency among and within quality grades.
Other defects identified included cuts being too large for foodservice/restaurant trade; excess fat; abscesses/lesions in cuts, trimmings and variety meats; blood splashed muscle; pathogens and food safety; dark cutting muscle/lack of uniformity in size/shape/weight; blood clots in cuts and trimmings; bruises; and lack of traceability to meet export requirements.
The national audit was conducted by researchers and scientists from Colorado State University (Fort Collins); Texas A&M University (College Station); Oklahoma State University (Stillwater); and West Texas A&M University (Canyon).
The study was conducted between July 2005 and June 2006. The work included interviews with beef and beef product export decision-makers, and with purveyors, restaurants, foodservice operators and supermarket officials.
Specific quality data were collected at 16 U.S. packing plants. The audit collected data for live cattle, carcasses/offal items on the harvest floor and carcasses after chilling and after ribbing at the 12th/13th rib interface.
The beef audit is conducted every five years. It is part of the Beef Quality Assurance Program, which was initiated by producers in 1982 and is the nation's oldest pre-harvest herd management education program. Programs that certify trained producers in quality pre-harvest practices are active in 47 states. Program materials are funded by the beef checkoff.