According to results of the National Beef Quality Audit-2000, producers have reduced the cost of quality defects in fed cattle by 15 percent since 1995.

Much of the improvement came through reductions in the incidence of injection-site lesions, bruises, dark-cutting carcasses and horns. The audit follows the release of results from the National Beef Tenderness Survey, which also offered good news by indicating a 20 percent improvement in beef tenderness since the early 1990s. That study showed considerable improvement in tenderness among cuts from the Chuck and Round, as well as middle meats.

Researchers attribute improvements in tenderness to several factors.These include improved chilling and aging methods and a better grade mix including more Prime and Upper-Choice carcasses. Also noted is reductions in injection-site lesions helping improve the tenderness of cuts from the chuck and round.

Overall, the audit found several areas in which beef quality has improved.

  • More Choice and Prime carcasses than in 1995. The percentage of Choice and Prime carcasses climbed from 48 percent in 1995 to 51 percent of the total fed population in 2000. The percentage of Prime carcasses nearly doubled, rising from 1.3 percent to 2.5 percent.
  • Fewer undesirable "hardbone" and B-maturity carcasses. The percentage of B-maturity carcasses
    dropped from 4.3 percent in 1995 to 2.5 percent in 2000.
  • No major shifts in excess fat production. Carcass fat thickness is slightly higher than it was in 1995, but remains well below 1991 levels. In 1991, excess fat production was a primary product-quality concern.
  • Substantial improvements in horns. The percentage of cattle with no horns improved dramatically from 68 percent in 1995 to 77 percent in 2000. Cattle with horns cause bruising during transport and handling.
  • Substantial improvements in the frequency of injection-site lesions. Less than 3 percent of all top butts contained an injection-site lesion in 2000. That's down from 22 percent in the early 1990s. While not a food-safety problem, injection-site lesions negatively affect tenderness and product presentation.

"Results of the audit show cattle producers have taken seriously their commitment to meeting and exceeding expectations of consumers," says Ran Smith, Chairman of the industry's Quality Assurance Advisory Board. "And the audit shows that beef is better than it used to be." The National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) released the audit report during its annual convention on Feb. 2. The study was financed through NCBA and conducted by Colorado State University, Oklahoma State University, Texas A&M University and West Texas A&M University.