Report cards let students know how they’ve done and where they need to improve. The National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA) serves as a report card to the beef industry, showing how well the industry is doing in meeting consumer demands for quality and value.

The fourth such audit was conducted in 2005 and identified several areas in which the industry needed to improve, including inadequate tenderness, insufficient marbling, excess external fat and excess carcass/cut weights — all issues that can impact a consumer’s enjoyment of beef products.

“Approximately 20% of beef consumed as steaks is less than desirable10 or unacceptable in tenderness,” says Dr. Michael Dikeman, a professor of meat science and industry from Kansas State University. “When consumers have an undesirable eating experience, they often shift to some other meat protein source, either temporarily or longer term.”

But when the consumer has a good experience, the pendulum swings in a more beneficial direction for beef producers. Kansas State University research has shown consumers are willing to pay extra to be sure they are getting a quality product — consistently. One study showed a willingness by consumers to pay as much as a $2.67-per-pound premium for a steak that was labeled “guaranteed tender.”

In the past, tenderness and marbling have been difficult, if not impossible, to measure prior to harvest, which could mean inefficient cattle producing several generations of progeny. However, with the help of new tools, such as DNA technology, producers can identify animals earlier in life with the genetics to produce a quality end product.

Dr. Kevin DeHaan, Director of Technical Services IGENITY®, says DNA profiling gives producers and managers a way to learn more about their cattle early in life, helping them to make progress in the areas outlined by the NBQA.

“By using the most comprehensive DNA profile available to gain inside information; selection, management and marketing decisions can be made earlier and at every critical production stage in each individual’s life,” Dr. DeHaan says. “The IGENITY profile includes traits of economic importance such as tenderness potential, marbling, fat thickness, ribeye area, yield grade and hot carcass weight along with parentage in multiple-sire settings.”

Until the discovery of the markers for tenderness, the only way for seedstock producers to measure and select a sire for tenderness was to gather Warner-Bratzler shear force test results on steaks harvested from his progeny. This is expensive, time-consuming and not possible in some processing plants, Dr. Dikeman says. However, with the use of DNA technology, he says beef producers now have the tools to help produce quality, tender beef through careful management and breeding stock selection.

“DNA profiling can be done much earlier than waiting to get carcass or meat quality data on progeny of sires,” Dr. Dikeman says. “In particular, seedstock producers can select for beneficial traits, which can result in reduced waste fat production; optimized ribeye areas and yield grades; improved marbling and tenderness; greater uniformity in carcasses; and greater satisfaction from processors, retailers, restaurants and, most importantly, consumers.”

A comprehensive approach to DNA profiling allows for both marker-assisted selection and management, which Dr. DeHaan says means progress can be made simultaneously along several points in the beef-production chain.

“The IGENITY profile includes important carcass and performance information that can assist feedyards in making both feeding and marketing decisions about cattle already in production,” he says. “At the same time, cow/calf and seedstock producers can gain information about young breeding stock and make breeding and selection decisions based on these important traits.”

The industry no longer has to wait until an undesirable animal has cost several segments money — and entered the food chain — to make selection, management and marketing decisions based on that animal’s performance potential.

“In addition to a lack of tenderness, the industry still is producing too much waste fat and there is too much inconsistency in carcass weights and composition,” Dr. Dikeman says. “DNA profiling can result in significant progress in correcting these problems when used for selection and management alongside traditional tools such as ultrasound and EPDs.”

The long-term profitability of the beef industry rests on pleasing consumers, and DNA technology can help the industry meet consumer demands faster by shortening the amount of time it takes to gain information about cattle and make change, Dr. DeHaan says.