By Steve Boyles, OSU Beef Extension Specialist
The 2016 National Beef Quality Audit was rolled out at the 2017 Cattle Industry Summer Business Meeting held recently in Denver. Since 1991, the beef checkoff-funded National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA) has delivered a set of guideposts and measurements for cattle producers to help determine quality conformance of the U.S. beef supply.Transportation, Mobility and Harvest Floor AssessmentsNearly 97% of cattle received a mobility score of 1, with the animal walking easily and normally, with no apparent lameness. There was a decrease in black-hided cattle and an increase in Holstein-type cattle compared to the 2011 Audit, 58% vs. 61% and 20% vs. 6%, respectively;. There were more cattle without a brand, more cattle with no horns, fewer cattle with identification, more carcasses with bruises, although bruising was generally less severe. The number of blemishes, condemnations and other attributes that impact animal value remain small; however, of livers harvested, more than 30% did not pass inspection and were condemned. Industry efforts to address these issues since 1995 have been generally encouraging.Cooler AssessmentsWhile the industry is improving the quality of beef being produced, that quality is being accompanied by an increase in size and fatness. Since 1995 there has been a continued increase in carcass weight. In 2016, 44% of carcasses weighed 900 lb or greater, which is 21% higher than in 2011. While total cattle slaughtered is the lowest in years, total beef production has increased. This suggests a positive sustainability outcome, producing more beef with the same amount of resources. Heavier carcasses could result in an increased ribeye area which, in turn, could lead to a steak with an undesirable surface area. Consumers generally prefer thicker steaks with a smaller surface area. There was a dramatic increase in the frequency of Prime and Choice and a decrease in the frequency of Select. One of the reasons for this is the increase in dairy-type carcasses. While the greatest proportion of carcasses were within the lowest third of the grade for both Choice and Prime, the majority of carcasses qualifying for Select were in the top half of the grade.ConclusionThe beef industry has spent the last quarter century improving the quality of its product. While the data show that those in the industry have a valuable story to tell, it’s no help that many in the industry don’t fully know the best way to tell it. In conclusion, the 2016 National Beef Quality Audit observed a decrease in cattle with hide brands, presence of horns, and an increase in the frequency of Prime and Choice carcasses. However, it is evident further improvement is needed with liver condemnations and carcasses with bruising. Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) and its principles to increase consumer confidence and enhance industry commitment would encourage greater beef demand, and improve industry harmonization. Carrying this BQA message throughout the industry all the way to consumers would benefit every audience.
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