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The National Beef Quality Audit, conducted by Colorado State, Texas A&M and Texas Tech Universities in 1992, was a "wake-up" call to the beef cattle industry. The results of the audit of the slaughter cattle population, conducted in 28 plants from across the U.S., indicated a total of some $280 in inefficiencies for each fed steer and heifer produced in the beef business. Furthermore, when these inefficiencies were categorized, it became apparent that the majority of these losses occur due to excess fat production with lower consistency in taste than desired. If the industry is to remain a viable sector of the food business, it cannot ignore the challenge presented by these results: the beef cattle industry needs to achieve change at the carcass level, by implementing a combination of changes in feeding and management practices coupled with genetic improvement.
If one reviews the history of the "carcass merit/value-based marketing" issue, the argument has repeatedly been raised by both industry and academia that goes something like this: "I do not get paid on the basis of carcass performance, and until I do, I see little justification for collecting carcass data. Furthermore, "value-based marketing" is a buzz word made up by the packing industry, for the benefit of the packing industry, that seems to keep getting delayed in its implementation." While this argument may appear to be historically true, it also is somewhat short-sighted. The fact of the matter is that the business of selling beef has become more challenging due to competition from the poultry and pork industries. The response of the beef packing and retail industries is beginning to be seen through the development of new closely trimmed boxed beef. In the past two years, Excel, IBP and Monfort-ConAgra have all developed 1/4 inch trim (or less) boxed-beef specifications. Industry consensus is that approximately 40% of all boxed-beef trade will fall into this category by the end of 1995, with this percentage expected to increase in 1996 (NCA, 1995). One does not have to be very astute to realize the impact of this marketing change on the cow-calf industry. Furthermore, the Long Range Plan for the consolidated organizations of the beef industry lists “improving quality and consistency” of beef as its #1 leverage point. Collectively, these points reveal that measurement of carcass performance is indeed justified.