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Opinion
Aug 10, 2012

Report card is in

The beef industry’s report card came out during the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s midyear meeting a couple weeks ago. It shows that most beef producers have done a pretty good job improving the product over the past 20 years when the first National Beef Quality Audit was done in 1991.

 

There were five phases in the report; over an 11-month period, each production sector helped define different quality categories.

They concluded that the industry doesn’t communicate very well and recommended that we standardize the terminology about quality among segments of the industry. They also found out that food safety is the single most important quality attribute to packers, food service and retailers, those closest to the consumers. The interviews showed that the industry needs to do a better job telling its story about every aspect of the industry.

Phase two showed that we’re producing a better product. Ironically, the report showed that individual animal ID had increased from 38.7 percent in 2005 in the last survey to 50.6 percent in the new one. I would have expected it to be much higher. They also found that we’re producing more Choice and Prime carcasses; 61 percent graded Choice or better, but carcasses are much bigger. Then they found that instrument grading was not found to be much different than human grading and these results may accelerate the trend toward more instrument grading.

Phase three interviewed 3,755 cattlemen about Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) and found that 90 percent of cattlemen have a working relationship with a vet but when they vaccinate, 25 percent said they don’t use medications as directed on the labels. Electric cattle prods are a thing of the past when handling cattle. When vaccinating, 87 percent inject in the shoulder while 41 percent of dairymen still vaccinate in the rump. Seventy-one percent of the interviewees said they have been to a BQA meeting and 99 percent of those who have attended follow best management practices. And 78 percent of the ID respondents used individual animal ID to keep track of withdrawal times for animal health products.

Phase four found that we have to do more than just deliver a great product to consumers. Consumers want more information about their food, and to grow consumer demand, it will require earning their confidence. Quality must be backed up by a system of transparency that addresses not only the product but the process. They say that each industry segment must be transparent not only with the consumer, but the other segments of the industry that feed and process and market the end product.

Phase five requires the industry to share its story.

Animal welfare is second nature to most producers and most also realize they’re stewards of the land and their cattle. They keep both healthy because it’s the right thing to do, and market signals support good, healthy cattle. Then there is food safety and the flavor and tenderness of beef. Food safety is a constant issue that is researched every day. There is an international story as well. We’re the only country that has consistent grain-fed beef and are managed extremely well. However, science needs to back up our story and enhance our image and provide consumer confidence. Finally, the industry must be authentic, honest and transparent, and we need to start that program right away.

The audit also claims that the industry is losing $43.66 per head because of nonconformance with ideal targets for quality. It is pretty drastic when packers get a range of carcass between 600 lbs. and over 1,000 lbs.

I think it’s safe to say that beef is a better product than it was 20 years ago and I blame the inconsistency problems on the genetic revolution when cattlemen were trying every breed of cattle on the face of the earth. When Angus are the majority of the nation’s cow herd, you’re going to have more consistency. But we’ve been chasing growth for so long and all of a sudden we see cows at 1,600 lbs. The survey said that the largest ribeye they measured was 23 inches; you could cut that rib to 3/8 of an inch and it would be the only thing that would fit on a plate.

The folks who evaluated the information say that communication between production sectors and the consumer are paramount issues and producers need to start that communication as soon as possible. — PETE CROW

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