Every five years, the National Beef Quality Audit is conducted to assess how the industry is doing in delivering quality beef to consumers. The most recent audit was conducted between July 2005 and June 2006.

The survey includes interviews with beef and beef product export decision-makers, and with purveyors, restaurants, foodservice operators and supermarket officials. Specific quality data was also collected at 16 U.S. packing plants – gathering information for live cattle, carcasses/offal items on the harvest floor, and carcasses after chilling and after ribbing at the 12th/13th rib interface.

Initial results from the 2005 audit, which is funded in part by checkoff investments in the Beef Quality Assurance Program, show that U.S. producers are making some quality improvements – but still have some challenges to address.

What has the industry improved upon?
The top three quality successes since the 2000 audit were: 1) improved microbiological safety; 2) improved cattle genetics and beef of higher quality; and 3) fewer injection-site lesions.

What is still viewed as trouble spots for the beef industry?
“Lack of uniformity/consistency in quality” was ranked by end-users as the No. 1 defect in the U.S. beef industry. That lack was further defined by four factors: (presence) of marbling; tenderness; palatability; and inconsistency among and within quality grades.

Other defects identified included cuts being too large for foodservice/restaurant trade; excess fat; abscesses/lesions in cuts, trimmings and variety meats; blood splashed muscle; pathogens and food safety; dark cutting muscle/lack of uniformity in size/shape/weight; blood clots in cuts and trimmings; bruises; and lack of traceability to meet export requirements.

What other concerns were identified?
In response to the question “What one quality attribute could U.S. cattlemen change to make it easier for you to export beef products?” beef exporters cited source and age verification followed by more marbling as their top response.

When asked to cite “the gold standard” for high-quality beef in foreign markets, exporters ranked U.S. Prime No. 1, followed by U.S. Choice.
But, overall the perception foreign buyers have about U.S. beef flavor and tenderness is very favorable. Of those surveyed, 100% rated tenderness as “very good.” Seventy percent rated the flavor of U.S. beef as “excellent,” while 30% gave the rating of “very good.”

Where will future market growth be?
Natural and international opportunities top the list of markets with growth potential. Respondents predicted just over a 14% increase in domestic consumer demand for “natural” beef products in the next 10 years, while international demand is expected to grow by just over 10%.

What should the industry’s goals be for 2010?
Looking ahead, those involved with the 2005 audit identified four key strategies that the industry will strive for over the next five years. Those goals are:

  • Deliver product attributes that meet consumer needs/expectations for safety, taste, color and convenience.
  • Improve cattle by implementing instrument grading; reducing numbers of YG 4 or 5 carcasses; controlling carcass weight; increasing marbling; decreasing variation, and maximizing profitability.
  • Expand marketing opportunities (in domestic and global markets) by developing traceability systems; verifying source and age; reducing costs and waste in the beef value chain, and continuing new product development.
  • Strengthen connections among segments of the beef supply chain via communication and targeted educational programs.

The national audit was conducted by researchers and scientists from ColoradoStateUniversity (Fort Collins); TexasA&MUniversity (College Station); OklahomaStateUniversity (Stillwater); and WestTexasA&MUniversity (Canyon). Previous beef quality audits were conducted in 1991, 1995 and 2000.