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Beef Quality Corner- 2000 National Beef Quality Audit

Livestock Update, July 2001

Bill R. McKinnon, Extension Animal Scientist, Marketing, VA Tech

Is the beef industry making progress toward improving the quality and consistency of beef? According to the results of the 2000 Beef Quality Audit, the industry is reducing the incidence of product defects.

The 2000 National Beef Quality Audit is the third in a series of comprehensive audits of the status of the quality and consistency of fed cattle and beef. Previous checkoff funded audits were conducted in 1991 and 1995. The audits are conducted in three phases. Phase one is a series of surveys of producers, packers, purveyors, restaurateurs, and retailers. Phase two is a series of audits of cattle and carcasses at packing plants. The final phase is a strategy workshop of industry representatives to review the findings of the surveys and audits and then develop strategies for improvement.

Compared to the 1995 audit, the most recent survey revealed several areas of improvement. There was a higher percentage of Choice and Prime carcasses with 51% of the total fed cattle surveyed versus 48% in the 1995 audit. The percent Prime carcasses rose to 2%, up from 1.3% in 1995. There were also fewer "hardbone" or "B- maturity" carcasses at 2.5%, down from 4.3% in 1995.

It was impressive to note the improvement in the percentage of polled or dehorned cattle increased to 77% of the slaughter mix. The previous survey found only 68% of the cattle had no horns.

The incidence of injection site lesions in top sirloin butts dropped to 3% from the 22% incidence level of the early 1990's. Unfortunately there has been an increased number of injection lesions found in the round. With the amount of publicity the issue of injection site lesions in the rump has received, it is somewhat discouraging that the industry must still address the problem.

The final phase of the audit identified ten challenges that the industry must still address.

  1. Improve the overall uniformity of fed cattle.
  2. Narrow the range in carcass weight and size. Carcasses above 950 pounds create serious problems in handling and transport and produce excessively large cuts.
  3. Improve the tenderness of beef.
  4. Improve the level of marbling to better meet the demand for Choice and Prime carcasses.
  5. Improve the quality grade and tenderness, which are often caused by overly aggressive implanting regimes, poor animal health, and inappropriate weight loss.
  6. Continue to improve genetics and production management that result in desirable quality grades, but reduce the amount of excess fat.
  7. Do a better job of hitting an appropriate quality grade mix by eliminating Standard carcasses and increasing the percentage of higher grading carcasses.
  8. Reduce hide damage due to brands. If cattle must be branded, the brands should be moved to the hip instead of the ribs.
  9. Reduce the frequency and severity of bruising.
  10. Reduce the incidence of liver condemnations.

The industry has made measurable progress in reducing defects. The beef quality audit process has proven to be an effective tool in identifying problem areas and publicizing strategies with which the industry can attack quality and consistency issues.

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