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Summary of the National Beef Quality Audit

20 February 2013

Producer, packing and broader industry surveys are carried out every five years to assess the quality of US beef. The 2011 results are now available and ready for discussion.

The National Beef Quality Audit was initiated in 1991, and serves the beef industry by providing data and information relative to quality of our U.S. beef supply. Conducted every five years, the recent 2011 NBQA provides insight as to how the industry has improved quality attributes, and provides the necessary benchmarks to guide improvement strategies moving forward.

The NBQA is conducted in three phases consisting of interviews representing all production and marketing sectors of the industry, cooler audits and data collection at beef packing plants, and thirdly producer surveys assessing production practices. The information derived through these methods is analyzed and summarized to provide an assessment of industry progress towards its quality enhancement goals as well as establish priorities for improvement moving forward.

Following is a summary of the major findings from the 2011 National Beef Quality Audit:

Findings from Surveys Across All Industry Sectors:

  • Market Sectors Define Quality in Different Ways- Sectors closer to the consumer place greater importance on traits connected with social values (animal well?being, sustainable production), yet price?per?pound remains the sole market signal throughout the chain.
  • Need for Increased Transparency- The industry needs to do a better job of communicating its story to the public. Consumers want to know the story behind their beef, including how cattle feed affects the beef product, accessibility of health and management records, accessibility of age and source verification, and accessibility of third party audits documenting humane handling practices. “How and Where the Cattle Were Raised” were identified as very important by all sectors.
  • Increased Importance of Food Safety and Eating Satisfaction- The importance of food safety is increasing for packers, foodservice, and retailers. Eating satisfaction is the only attribute for which packers, foodservice, and retailers are willing to pay a premium. All beef sectors most frequently define eating satisfaction as being related to tenderness and flavor.
  • Additional Opportunities- Beef produced with ideal lean:fat ratios and managing cattle and carcass weights to create more uniform, consistent products are areas with potential to add value.

Findings from the Packing Sector:

  • Individual Animal Identification- Nearly all cattle coming into the packing plant are identified in some fashion, with an increase in those individually identified with visual tags (50.6%) compared to the 2005 NBQA (38.7%); and a substantial increase in use of electronic ID (20.1% in 2011 vs. 3.5% in 2005).
  • More Awareness of the Importance of Animal Handling- The number of bruises on cattle entering the plant is decreased from the number in the 2005 NBQA.
  • Increased Carcass Weights- Carcass weights are increasing (825 lbs. for NBQA 2011 vs. 793 lbs. for NBQA 2005), and 95.1% of carcasses range between 600 and 1,000 lbs.
  • Increased Availability of Prime and Choice- The percentage of Prime and Choice is at a 20?year high (61.1% for NBQA 2011 vs. 54.5% for NBQA 2005).
  • Increased Percentage of Conforming Carcasses- Carcasses meeting targets of U.S. Select or higher and USDA yield grades 1 – 3 total 85.1% compared to 81.7% in 2005 NBQA.
  • Human and Instrument Grading Are Aligned- Cattle of comparable carcass weight showed similar measurements for ribeye area, adjusted fat thickness, USDA yield grade and marbling scores whether assessed by human graders or by camera.

Findings from Producer Surveys:

  • Healthy Cattle Equal Quality- To cattle producers, quality equates to raising healthy cattle and producing safe and wholesome beef. Ninety?six percent of producer respondents believe they can influence quality via activities such as preventative health care and 90% of producers have a working relationship with their veterinarian. Although 95% had some level of routine vaccination and treatment protocols, only 31% had a written plan indicating a greater need for documentation.
  • Injection Site Improvements- Educational emphasis through Beef Quality Assurance has greatly reduced injection?site lesions since the 1991 NBQA. However, improvement is still needed, particularly within the dairy segment, with 41% of dairy producers still giving injections in the animal’s rump.
  • Low?Stress Handling Is a Priority- Use of good stockmanship and animal?handling skills is the producer’s primary method of intentionally influencing quality. Ninety?eight percent do not use an electric prod as their primary driving tool.
  • BQA Is Being Adopted- Eighty?seven percent of respondents say they have heard of BQA and 71% have attended a BQA training or completed an online training. Receiving a premium for following BQA protocols is an ideal.
  • Animal Identification and Traceability- Seventy?eight percent of respondents used individual animal ID as a means to keep track of withdrawal times for animal health products.

While there is strong evidence that all segments of the industry have made significant improvements to enhance beef quality, the 2011 NBQA has identified additional challenges and provides opportunities for further improvement. The major challenges to quality have been categorized as food safety, eating satisfaction, how and where cattle are raised, lean/fat/bone, weight/size, and genetics. Next month, we will examine opportunities for cow-calf producers to address these areas of focus to enhance quality.

February 2013

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