CN August September 2023 Vol. 62 Issue 5

RAISING THE BAR, THEN EXCEEDING IT The 2022 National Beef Quality Audit Showed Improvement, Lost Opportunities By Burt Rutherford Contributing Editor

W e’re getting better. A lot better, in fact. But much like a football coach who, even when the team wins, isn’t satisfied with the performance, the 2022 National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA) not only documented where beef producers are winning, but where their performance still can be improved. The NBQA began in 1991 and is conducted periodically to determine how the beef business is improving over time. These audits have delivered a set of guideposts and measurements for everyone in the beef business, especially beef producers, to determine quality conformance of the U.S. beef supply. Prior to the 2022 audit, the previous audit was conducted in 2016. First, the caveat: The 2022 NBQA, with results released earlier this year, was conducted under extraordinary circumstances, primarily drought and supply backlogs because of COVID-19. Because of the remarkable disruptions those two factors produced, the data are more a snapshot at a particular point in time than part of a continuum. Nonetheless, the data are important and instructive as beef producers continue to produce a safe, nutritious product that consumers demand. “Looking at the data collected from this National Beef Quality Audit, I think the quality of beef being produced today and the efficiency by which it’s being done has improved markedly,” says Trey Patterson, CEO of the Padlock Ranch and chair of the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) Advisory Group.“I think that shows that the efforts that have been put in place in the past to make strides in these areas has yielded positive results for the industry.” Another pearl of knowledge the audit revealed is that beef chain market segments no longer consider food safety as a purchasing criterion.“It is a basic expectation,” Patterson says.

“So we’ve really set a new bar for ourselves that the beef will not only be high quality, but it’ll be safe,” Patterson says.“I see that as a real positive.” Market Cows and Bulls Just like fed cattle, the quality of beef harvested from cull cows and bulls has improved, Patterson says.“The efforts we’ve put into that in the past, a lot of that through Beef Quality Assurance (BQA), have yielded results. We’re getting better.” Generally, cull cows and

according to an NBQA summary. Then there’s this: “We also saw that the incidence of foreign objects are still a problem in beef,” Patterson says. While that’s something that the industry may not want to talk about, he thinks the issue needs to be addressed, particularly when it comes to birdshot. In fact, 100 percent of the cull cow and bull packing plants that participated in the audit reported finding birdshot and buckshot, not just in the hides, but in the muscle as well. Other foreign objects, such as broken needles, wire and darts, all came in at almost 19 percent each. What’s more, 53.3 percent of surveyed plants reported instances of supply chain segments finding foreign objects in their products. While plants have installed metal detectors and x-rays to catch and remove foreign objects before products leave the plant, this remains an issue throughout the supply chain, according to an NBQA summary. “We should not have any tolerance for that,” Patterson says.“That creates added waste in our industry.” While he’s not sure zero is possible, he thinks more BQA training and education can reduce

bulls mainly produce ground beef. However, the beef supply chain has realized some market cows and bulls can yield valuable primals that can be fabricated and sold as retail cuts to restaurants, which increases the value of those animals. What’s more, a very large majority of cattle and carcasses surveyed had no instances of knots (98.2 percent) or injection-site lesions (97.1 percent) visible on the exterior carcass surface. That indicates great strides in the number of producers who are trained in BQA practices and are administering injections properly, according to an NBQA fact sheet. And, Patterson says,“Transportation is getting better,” something he attributes to the addition of Transportation BQA (BQAT) to the program. In fact, nearly 93 percent of livestock haulers interviewed were familiar with the BQAT program, and 91 percent were BQAT certified, according to audit results. That’s reflected in the increased number of trailer loads that allot sufficient space as outlined in the industry’s Animal Handling Guidelines,


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