Full results of the 2011 National Beef Quality Audit are not yet available to the public. But participants in last week’s Beef Improvement Federation annual conference got an early look, and food safety has risen to the top of the priority list.
Texas A&M Extension beef specialist Ron Gill, PhD., outlined the audit and some of the results for BIF conference participants. The audit, conducted through 2011, included three phases, beginning with in-depth interviews with retailers, packers, foodservice managers and exporters. The second phase involved in-plant audits and the third stage included surveys of cow-calf, feedyard and stocker operators regarding management practices.
Gill notes that previous audits from 1991 through 2005 generally indicated the greatest quality concerns and challenges for the industry related to physical defects such as injection-site lesions, bruises, excess fat and inconsistently tender or tough meat.
This time, most of those concerns, which the industry has worked hard to address, moved down the list, while food safety emerged as a top concern, particularly among retailers and food-service managers.
Retailers listed food safety as their number-one beef-quality concern, followed by eating satisfaction, how animals were raised, visual characteristics such as marbling and weight or size of cuts.
Interestingly, when asked to rank strengths, weaknesses and threats related to beef quality, retailers listed food safety at number one under strengths, number three under weaknesses and number one under threats. Food-service operators also listed food safety as a top concern, and rated safety as a strength, weakness and threat.
Packers, who in the past listed hide damage, carcass uniformity Quality Grade and tenderness as their top concerns, this time listed food safety on top, followed by eating satisfaction, the ratio of lean to fat and bone, how animals were raised and genetics. Under strengths, packers listed premium beef products on top, with food safety at number four, but listed food safety as the number-one threat.
Feedlot operators were most concerned with how and where cattle were raised, weight/size, genetics lean-fat-bone ratio followed by safety and eating satisfaction.
Several universities cooperated with NCBA and USDA in conducting in-plant audits, collecting data on more than 18,000 beef carcasses. Some highlights of the results include:
- Among all the cattle coming through packing plants, 97.5 percent have some kind of identification, compared with 93.3 percent in the 2005 NBQA. Just over 20 percent carry individual electronic ID tags. About 35 percent have butt brands, 9 percent side brands and 55 percent no brands.
- Upon arrival at the plant, 50.8 percent of cattle had no mud on their hides, compared with 25.8 percent in 2005. The improvement is likely due to extremely dry conditions across much of cattle-feeding country during 2011.
- Black-hided cattle account for 61 percent of the total, compared with 56 percent in 2005 and 45 percent in 2001.
- Incidence of bruised carcasses has declined, with 77 percent having no bruises compared with 64.8 percent in 2005. However, half of the bruised carcasses had bruises on the high-value loin area.
- As for USDA Quality Grade, 93.7 percent graded Select or better, compared with 94.7 in 2005. Sixty-one percent grade Choice or better and 9.3 percent qualify for Certified Angus beef.
- Specialty claims remain a small percentage, with 0.5 percent qualifying as Non-Hormone Treated Beef and 0.6 percent certified as natural. About 10 percent have age and source verification.
- Average outside fat thickness is 0.51 inches, unchanged from 2005. The average ribeye area is 13.7 square inches, with a range from 4.4 square inches to 28 square inches.
- The average carcass weight is 818 pounds. The lightest carcass in the audit weighed 300 pounds while the heaviest weighed 1,358 pounds.