From the September 2016 issue of Drovers.

During the strategy sessions for the 2011 National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA), one cattle feeder asked the group, “If we don’t have feedback signals or don’t use them, then how can we be successful?”

Our story, "Beef's $35 million bruise," of the September issue is a classic example of today’s beef industry working in unison to identify signals and using them to improve animal welfare, beef quality and economic returns.

Cooperation between Kansas State University researchers, Cargill Meat Solutions, cattle feeders and trucking companies has identified a major source of bruising that is costing the beef industry millions of dollars in lost revenue. That lost value, however, might only be the tip of the iceberg relative to the value of our industry’s image among consumers and activist groups. 

That’s because the Kansas State bruising study identifies both the source of a significant animal welfare concern and its solution. Specifically, the study of 10,308 fed cattle delivered to three Cargill packing plants found cattle transported in the belly compartment of trailers were more likely to suffer a bruise to their back or topline due to insufficient clearance at the gate of the trailer belly. Cargill says topline bruises result in necessary carcass trim to 2% of their total supply, which can devalue the strip loin by $75. That represents the economic incentive to fix the problem, but across the chain, stakeholders say they are also committed because it’s the right thing to do.

Authors of the 2011 NBQA encouraged industry stakeholders to be “an authentic, honest and transparent industry, because that is what the consumer demands of us.”

Tom Field, former executive director of producer education for NCBA, now the Paul Engler Chair of Agribusiness Entrepreneurship at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, challenged stakeholders in 2011 to have the courage to continuously improve beef eating satisfaction through total quality management. Beef producers all along the production chain, he says, must ask and then answer, three questions about their production practices:

1. Will this decision affect eating satisfaction?

2. Does this decision improve product integrity and customer trust?

3. Will I be proud to make this a part of telling the beef industry’s story?

The final chapter of the bruising problem identified by Kansas State University and Cargill has not been written. The solution is that all trailers hauling fed cattle to slaughter must be modified to accommodate today’s larger animals. A handful of trucking companies have already begun the process of making such modifications—at their own expense—and they say much of their motivation is because “it’s the right thing to do.”

This chapter in beef’s story is one that should make all stakeholders proud. It proves various segments can work together to identify and solve an issue that is of importance to all, while improving product integrity and consumer trust.