The National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA) is a comprehensive study conducted every five years by the beef industry to measure the production and processing parameters of the business.  The NBQA is a way for the industry to get a report card on the cattle business says John Paterson, director of producer education with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.  It tells us how we are doing, what we are doing right and what do we need to improve on as an industry.

The first NBQA was conducted in 1991 with the goal to provide the industry with a meaningful set of benchmarks and measurements to assist in identifying the quality conformance of the U.S. beef supply. Audit results provide an industry-wide scorecard that can offer direction to beef supply chain decision makers targeting to improve the quality and value of the beef supply. The early audits concentrated on the physical attributes of beef and beef by-products such as marbling, external fat, carcass weight and carcass blemishes. The 2011 audit revealed a broader perspective of issues such as food safety, animal well-being and the disconnect between agricultural producers and consumers.

The recently completed 2011 audit consisted of three phases. Phase 1 focused on determining how the beef production and the marketing sectors (feeders, packers, retailers, foodservice operators and allied industry) defined seven quality categories of beef. These seven quality categories included: 1) how and where the cattle were raised; 2) lean, fat and bone; 3) weight and size; 4) cattle genetics; 5) visual characteristics; 6) food safety; and 7) eating satisfaction. The objective in Phase 2 was to assess the current status of quality and consistency of U.S. fed steers and heifers. New  to the audit in 2011 was a third phase which Paterson explains was the component of asking producers about production practices and their adoption of beef quality assurance related practices.

Once the research results from the three phases were analyzed, a strategy workshop consisting of 41 representatives from all facets of the beef industry reviewed the conclusions and identified strategies for the beef industry to implement going forward after this 2011 benchmark study. Paterson indicated the three strategies identified were: 1) product integrity; 2) eating satisfaction and 3) telling the beef industry story to consumers. Product integrity includes attributes such as food safety, where the cattle were raised, animal health, and animal care, handling and well-being. Eating satisfaction for consumers includes factors such as flavor profile, tenderness, juiciness and palatability. Both product integrity and eating satisfaction have the capability to be influenced by beef quality assurance practices. The industry’s ability to connect with consumers and tell the story of beef and beef production practices will aid the industry in continuing to enhance consumer trust. We observed many changes in the industry from the 2005 audit to the 2011 audit and some of the challenges in prior audits didn’t even show up in 2011 explains Paterson which indicates that the beef industry has made progress on improving the quality of their product in many aspects.

The NBQA is funded by the Beef Checkoff and the research was conducted by a team of researchers representing, Colorado State University, Texas A&M University, Oklahoma State University, Cal Poly State University, Pennsylvania State University, USDA-MARC and was coordinated by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Source: B. Lynn Gordon