A number of research studies completed over the past 10 years have laid the foundation of our knowledge regarding how to address beef quality and consistency.

We have been able to collectively conclude a number of things from these projects.

* One in five beef steaks are less than desirable to consumers on the basis of overall palatability, principally tenderness.

* There is too much variation in end-product performance in our industry, both in terms of red meat yield and meat quality, though it's improved in the past five years.

* Meat tenderness variation can be reduced by various treatment strategies postmortem including calcium chloride injection, electrical stimulation and aging for at least 14 days.

* The only proven way to reduce the occurrence of tough beef down to less than 3 - 5% is to genetically identify outlier "tough" sires.

* The U.S has one of the largest and most diverse gene pools of cattle that exists in the world.

* We can eliminate the vast majority of our end-product quality and consistency problems and reduce cost of production by the use of well-designed systematic crossbreeding systems. However, we cannot accomplish anything without the information to make the correct breed and sire-within-breed choices relative to end-product traits.

In June 1998, the Beef Board approved funding for a large-scale, national effort to move us down this road. The National Genetics of Carcass Merit Project (CMP) is funded 25% by checkoff funds with the remainder coming from participating breed associations and from an industry partner - Perkin Elmer AgGen, Davis, CA.

The CMP was formally initiated in June 1998 and will be completed in late 2001. It is an unprecedented project only possible because of extensive collabo ration from breed associations, breeders, feedlot operators, packing plants, scientists at five universities and a commercial DNA company.

The project has one umbrella objective: "To develop a map for individual breed associations to implement meat tenderness - measured as Warner-Bratzler shear force on rib steaks - as a new trait into their genetic improvement programs."

A total of 10,475 progeny will be measured in the project representing 269 sires from 15 participating breeds, which represent approximately 90% of current registrations in the U.S. seedstock industry. Scientists at Colorado State, Kansas State, Texas A&M and Cornell universities, and at Perkin Elmer AgGen will cooperate in the project effort.

Results will include EPDs for tenderness and sensory panel attributes, determination of whether DNA marker tests developed at Texas A&M will be helpful in genetic selection programs, and a comprehensive analysis of the costs and benefits of genetically improving quality and consistency. The project is a major move forward for our industry.

At presstime, we were just completing the first year's data and have collected data from 2,300 cattle with an additional 1,500 head still on feed. The results were presented at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association convention in January.