2016 National Beef Quality Audit Review

The National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA) has been in place since 1991 as a measurement for cattle producers to determine quality conformance of the U.S. Beef Supply. There have been six total audits (1991, 1995, 2000, 2005, 2011, and 2016) over the course of 25 years and each has contributed a new layer of consumer and industry insight used to continue to move forward within the beef industry.

As our consumers’ wants and needs change, so does our industry and the products we provide. In 1991, various industry (packers, retailers, foodservice and further processors) revealed that the most important qualities of beef and beef by-products were external fat, seam fat, overall palatability, tenderness, overall cutability and marbling. Today, this group of individuals have much different set of characteristics in mind such as food safety, eating satisfaction, lean fat and bone, weight and size, how and where cattle were raised and visual characteristics. It is important to note the concerns of our consumers in order to increase beef demand and a sustainable future for years to come.


The 2016 audit was compiled of five major elements including face-to-face interviews, transportation, mobility and harvest floor assessments, cooler assessments, instrument grading evaluation and final strategy session.

Face-To-Face Interviews

The face-to-face interviews provide an understanding of what quality means to different industry sectors. By clearly defining what quality of beef products means, we as an industry, can move to improve our products and increase value.

The findings of these interviews included…

  • The various industry sectors requested food safety to be top priority and consistency in size and thickness across beef products is necessary to provide a well presented and uniform product to the consumer.
  • BQA (Beef Quality Assurance) is not currently recognized as a leader in consumer facing channels and by educating industry professionals (packers, retailers, foodservice and further processors) about the beef industry can continue to improve negative public perceptions.
  • Retailers and foodservice companies identified lack of progression towards industry transparency as the beef industry’s greatest weakness.

Transportation, Mobility and Harvest Floor Assessments

The Transportation, Mobility and Harvest Floor Assessments contained elements of evaluating characteristics that determine quality and value such as number of blemishes, condemnations and other attributes that may impact animal value. The Transportation and Mobility Assessment included about 10% of a day’s production at each harvesting plant. The Harvest Floor Assessment included 50% of a day’s production equaling about 25,000 head of cattle.


The results…

  • 97% of cattle at the harvesting facilities received a mobility score of 1 meaning the animal was walking normally and easily, with no apparent lameness.
  • Observations showed an increase in Holstein type cattle and a decrease in colored cattle from the previous 2011 National Beef Quality Audit.
  • There were more cattle without a brand and without horns
  • There were more cattle with a higher number of bruises but the bruising was less severe than the 2011 National Audit.
  • There were a small amount of condemnations and blemishes but of the livers harvested, 30% of them did not pass inspection and were condemned.

Cooler Assessment

The Cooler Assessment collected data on quality and yield grade in addition to carcass defects. This assessments provides a benchmark for future beef industry educational and research efforts.

The results show…

  • Since 1995, there has been continued increase in carcass weight. In 2016, 44% weighed over 900 pounds.
  • Cattle numbers have been down but the total pounds of beef product has increased. This means our efforts of a sustainable industry are working by producing more product with less resources.
  • There was a dramatic increase in the frequency of Prime and Choice carcasses and a decrease in frequency of select grade. This can be attributed by an increase of quality genetics and producers breeding for a higher quality animal.

Instrument Grading Evaluation & Strategy Session

This evaluation reviewed data that represented over 4.5 million carcasses over one year. The Strategy Session included more than 70 industry professionals represented every sector of the beef industry to review the results of the data collected. The outcome of this meeting will guide the beef industry’s progressive steps for the next five years until the next audit.

The participants of this meeting included…

  • There is an increased need for consumer and supply chain education about the BQA program and increase number of certifications across the nation
  • The beef industry must improve global market access by implementing information sharing systems by way of record keeping and modern animal identification
  • The beef industry must improve and continue animal husbandry practices to ensure future effectiveness of antimicrobials
  • The industry must utilize genetic technologies to breed for the carcass traits of uniformity, eating satisfaction and a desirable end-product

It is important to note that the beef industry is constantly improving and it shows in a total loss opportunities chart from 1991 to 2016. The total lost opportunities in 1991 equaled -$63.27 per head. Today (2016) that number has significantly decreased to -$49.06 per head.KMBT_C284e-20170731144634

All in all, the beef industry has significantly improved beef quality to meet consumer and industry demands. However, there is always room for improvement. Further improvement can be achieved in the areas of liver condemnations, carcasses with bruising and overall completion and education of the BQA Program.

If you have any questions about the 2016 National Beef Quality Audit, feel free to contact the Wisconsin Beef Council or NCBA for more information.


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