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High-quality beef: 2022 NBQA provides up-to-date benchmarks for achieving quality beef production

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

On May 16, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association hosted a virtual media event to discuss the results of the 2022 National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA). 

During the event, a panel of researchers including Texas A&M University’s Dr. Jeffrey Savell, Oklahoma State University’s Dr. Morgan Pfeiffer and Colorado State University’s Dr. Keith Belk sat down to provide insight on how the beef industry has improved since the last audit and how it plans to continue improvement moving forward. 

History of the NBQA

To begin, the panel explained the history of the NBQA, which started in 1991 and has been conducted every five years since. 

“The reason for starting the NBQA back then was because people were beginning to see the impacts of using preventative quality management practices and how it reduced costs to consumers while also improving quality and demand,” Belk noted.

Subsequently, an economist for the cattlemen’s association at the time named Chuck Lambert wrote a white paper titled “Lost Opportunity,” which outlined his studies on losses associated with producing quality beef, Belk further explained.

This led to the establishment of the NBQA and the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program. 

2022 audit 

Over 30 years later, the overarching goal of the audit remains the same – to understand the quality of beef being produced in the U.S., listen to current concerns in the industry and provide benchmark strategies for ways to improve production. 

“Our goal is accomplished in three phases,” explained Pfeiffer. “First, we interview people who purchase beef. We gather information on what they are seeing from our industry and the things they are most concerned about. Then we go into packing plants to collect data.” 

“We put all of this data together, present it to the stakeholders and develop a benchmark for the next five years,” she continued. 

New NBQA results 

According to the panel, results for the interview portion of the fed cattle audit showed food safety has become an integral part of beef production, there is continued growth in branded beef programs and the industry needs to continue addressing traceability.  

Pfeiffer noted fed cattle data in processing plants also reported an all-time high of Prime and Choice grade cattle.

“This is a testament to everyone in the industry,” she stated. 

For market cow and bull production, Belk explained the audit showed an increased concern regarding foreign object contamination, particularly buckshot, which has become more of a problem in sectors making ground products for fast-food type restaurants. 

Savell also noted market cows and bulls have seen a little less condition and lighter muscling than in the past. 

“Some of this may be due to the drought we have been seeing,” he said. “But, if cows and bulls were coming into the market in better condition from a fatness standpoint with more muscling, they would be more valuable to both the processor and the producer.” 

A highlight of the audit regarding market cows and bulls though, according to Pfeiffer, is an improved public image of the sector, which comes from years of improvement in animal handling and welfare. 

“The seedstock and genetic selection part of the industry has also made some serious improvements in the quality of product,” added Belk. 

Continued challenges

In addition to improvements seen in current beef production, the panel explained data from the audit also offered a glimpse into some of the challenges the beef industry will continue to face into the future. 

“There is no question the ever-increasing size and weight of cattle over the years continues to be a struggle,” mentioned Savell. “We got a lot of feedback from end users about the challenges associated with this. Yet, somewhere in the marketplace there are incentives for larger carcasses, and this will only continue moving forward.” 

Pfeiffer and Savell explained this increase in animal size has impacted the frequency of bruising, which they attribute to larger animals being worked and hauled in facilities and trucks that have stayed the same size.  

Belk also noted, because producers have begun using more selection and production management techniques in search of higher marbling scores, yield grade has become less important. However, processing plants continue to apply strict yield grade standards.

“When we combine these two things, we see a few cattle that, in addition to being heavier, are also fatter, so this might be an opportunity for us to improve over the next five years,” he stated. 

In the market cows and bulls sector, Savell pointed out it is also important for the industry to work on timely marketing to improve animal health and welfare.

“It is always a challenge to know how long to keep a market cow or bull. There is a fine line. I think this is a challenge we will always face, but the more timely we can market these animals and make sure they are in the best condition they can be will really help everyone involved,” he said. 

“I think in both sectors, we should commend everyone – from producers, feeders and processors – for everything they do to meet consumer demand,” concluded Pfeiffer. “We will continue to put out data like this and set benchmarks for the next five years. We will also continue encouraging those involved in the industry to get BQA trained and follow our guidelines so they don’t have lost opportunities.” 

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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