Retail beef is getting leaner. More importantly, however, retail beef is leaner than reported in government nutrition databases. Now, the beef industry has the science it needs to do something about it.

Findings of the National Beef Market Basket Survey were announced during the Cattle Industry Convention in Nashville and the results are encouraging. The checkoff-funded survey, conducted from January to March 2006, evaluated more than 10,000 retail cuts from 82 stores across the nation. Overall fat thickness (outside fat trim) for retail cuts was less than 1/10th of an inch.

That's significant, says Bridget Baird, associate director, product enhancement research for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), because it shows how the industry has responded to consumer desires. Now the goal is to work with USDA to make sure the info is reflected in the National Nutrient Database -- data used by nutritionists to develop diet recommendations.

"Right now, the database has 1/2-in., 1/4-in. or 1/8-in. trim," Baird says. "We found that, in many cases, there are no cuts that have 1/2 in. of fat or greater." That information will enable NCBA to work with USDA to revise the database, she says. "For producers, it's making sure beef is represented in its best light in the national database."

In fact, she says 72% of the cuts sampled had fat trim levels less than 1/8 in., significantly more than the results from the first Market Basket Survey conducted in 1991.

"So it's fair to say that beef is leaner than ever before and definitely leaner than we measured in 1991," Baird says. "We offer a lot more cuts now than we did in 1991 and we're doing a better job filling the retail case with products that meet consumer needs."
-- Burt Rutherford