Beef Industry's First Goal: Satisfy Consumers

Wayne R. Wagner
Livestock Specialist
WVU Extension Service
11/1999

Change. There is plenty of it occurring in the beef cattle industry. If you do not like change, this is not an industry for you.

Beef industry leaders have determined (and rightfully so, in my opinion) that the industry must become more consumer focused. The National Beef Quality Audit of 1995 reported the following, among other findings, about our product:

1. Not enough uniformity and consistency
2. Inadequate tenderness
3. Low overall palatibility
4. Insufficient flavor
5. Excessive weights/size of cuts
6. Not enough cattle in the higher USDA grades.

It is time for us to become more knowledgeable about our product--a food item. It is also time for us to become more dedicated to positively changing beef to satisfy consumers.

Instruments are being developed and studied to evaluate carcasses for tenderness and to provide more accurate assessment of carcass yield and quality grade. Within the next year, instrument assessment of yield is expected to be utilized in U.S. packing plants. This will help packers more accurately determine value differences due to yield of edible meat.

Just as exciting, but on a different front, is the identification of genetic markers. Researchers have begun to map the bovine genome. So far that have located two markers for marbling, five markers for flavor and four markers for cholesterol. The next step is to validate these markers across the U.S. beef cattle population. If these markers prove to be indicative of marbling, tenderness, flavor and cholesterol, we would be able to do a DNA test to determine the presence or absence of genes affecting these traits. I believe, for example, that we will soon be able to evaluate bulls in the West Virginia Bull Evaluation Program for at least some of these traits.

More and more producers and groups are becoming interested in our product and collecting information. Nonetheless, the interest in branded beef products, alliances and value-based marketing is on the rise.

Take a look at such groups as PM Beef, Harris Ranch, Coleman Natural Beef, Farmland Supreme, U.S. Premium Beef, Northern Plains Premium Beef, Laura Lean, etc., and such products as Certified Angus Beef, Certified Hereford Beef, and others. It is time for us to consider alignment with one or more of these products and/or alliances.

Is the beef cattle industry in West Virginia positioned to meet changing demands? Will we be able to meet the requirements for some of these new and emerging alliances and branded product lines? Some producers are, and some don't care. Some want to be, and some have no interest in change. Some believe the problems belong to someone else.

New terms and technologies are emerging, such as source verification and electronic identification. Producers who are responsible for problem products will be identified and discounted.

Beef demand is declining. The challenge for each producer is to decide whether to become part of the solution to change the decline.