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Beef

In it’s Meat Mythcrushers video series, the America Meat Institute (AMI) and American Meat Science Association tackle tough questions that consumers have and myths that are propagated about meat production and consumption.

Grass-fed versus grain-fed beef is a big question for many consumers on several fronts. First consumers are concerned about the health of cattle. Secondly, they are concerned if the meat from grain-fed cattle is nutritionally as healthy to consumer.

Natural feed source

Texas A&M University Beef Carcass Research Center Assistant Professor Ty Lawrence says, “Feeding cattle corn is very natural.”

“Some people mistakenly believe that corn- or grain-fed cattle never eat grass,” AMI says. “That’s just not true.”

Lawrence notes that all cattle eat some form of roughage, often grass, for a least some point in their life, and most often, cattle are on a grass-based diet until they enter the feedlot.

“In the feeding period, cattle are fed primarily a corn- or cereal grain-based diet,” he continues. “Consumers should understand that feeding cereal grains is just a form of feeding grass.”

Lawrence explains, “Corn is the seed of that grass. They are continuing to get the roughage-based, forage-fed diet, albeit in a cereal grain form, near the end of the finishing period.”

Nutrition

Further, Lawrence emphasized that cattle nutrition is very important to producers, and in the feedyard, cattle have a nutritionist who oversees their diet.

“Nutritionists in the feedyard provide a well-balanced diet for cattle, with all the protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals they need to grow and maintain a healthy lifestyle during finishing,” he said, noting that the nutrition of corn is beneficial to cattle. “Cattle that aren’t in the feedlot very rarely have nutritionists watching over their intake.”

Pasture-raised cattle consume what they choose, rather than a formulated diet, which makes it much more difficult to control. In a feedlot, rations are carefully regulated.

“These cattle are eating a much more balanced diet than most Americans,” Lawrence added.

Corn preference

A study at a west Texas panhandle feedlot also proved that cattle actually prefer a corn-based diet.

In the study, the feedyard took a group of cattle from the same location and split them in two. The first group was confined to a pen and fed a corn-based diet, as is traditional in the feedyard. The second group was placed in a pen on the edge of the feedlot with the gate open. They had free access to a grass pasture through the open gate.

“When the feed truck came by, the cattle went immediately to the bunk and ate their corn-based, well-balanced diet to give them what they needed,” Lawrence summarized. “At the end of their consumption, they’d go lay in the grass.”

“Consumers can rest assured that feeding corn to cattle is natural,” Lawrence stated, “and corn is something they prefer when given the opportunity.”

For consumers

Researchers have also addressed the healthfulness of beef from grass-fed as compared to that from grain-fed cattle, finding no nutritional difference between the two in several studies.

William Benjy Mikel, a professor and head of food science, nutrition and health promotion at Mississippi State University, mentions, “Both grass-fed and grain-fed beef are great sources of protein, they are packed with vitamins. Either one is a great product to be consuming. There are really no nutritional differences.”

Two research studies from Texas A&M University’s Department of Animal Sciences have compared the products, and the results have found no difference in the two.

Omega-3s and cholesterol

While it’s true that beef from grass-fed cattle does have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, the same product is higher in saturated fat and transfat.

Additionally, Mikel said that if omega-3 fatty acids are what consumers desire, the amounts in beef are significantly smaller than other proteins.

“If consumers want omega-3s, they should be going to fish,” he explained, adding that salmon, for example, has 35 times the amount of omega-3s than beef. “If they want good B vitamins, iron and protein, that is where beef comes in. Both are very good sources.”

A Texas Tech University study also found that there is no difference in cholesterol in ground beef from grass-fed and grain-fed cattle if the fat content is similar.

“Both grass-fed and corn-finished beef are among the most nutrient dense foods available, and both are good choices,” says AMI. 

Texas A&M University Professor and Meat Scientist Stephen B. Smith says, “At this point, there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that ground beef from grass-fed cattle is a healthier alternative to ground beef from conventionally raised, grain-fed cattle.”

Meat Mythcrushers strives to provide information to consumers that is correct and based on expert research. They also look to provide referenced facts to consumers and producers to help each person make an informed decision regarding meat and meat consumption.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Last year, Beef It’s What’s For Dinner launched the 30-Day Protein Challenge, a beef checkoff campaign to educate consumers about the benefits of protein, and now the challenge is back.

“We definitely saw great feedback. We were all blown away by the response we received when we launched it,” says Lindsay Kearns, coordinator of integrated communications at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA).

Over 14,600 consumers signed up to receive daily motivation emails last year, and this year, participants can choose to receive daily or weekly motivation.

“The beauty of the challenge is that it can be customized, so if it is someone’s second time around, they can change it up a little bit, try new recipes and set new goals,” Kearns describes.

Joining the challenge

Participants can begin the challenge at any time by visiting the Protein Challenge web page on the Beef It’s What’s For Dinner website. They can sign up for motivation emails, learn about the benefits of protein and find a 30-day challenge calendar to follow.

To begin, participants are encouraged to keep a food journal, documenting what foods they eat and how they feel throughout the day. Next, they are asked to review their eating patterns and compare them to how they feel.

The calendar includes days with increased protein consumption, balanced with normal-diet days.

“It’s all about taking 30 days to eat protein-rich foods at snack and meal times,” she says. “When we include more protein in our diets, we feel more full, we’re not as hungry, we notice we have more energy, and we’re not craving sugar.”

Beginning the day with donuts often leads to sugary snacks like cookies later in the day and cravings for more sugar, such as an afternoon soda, she explains.

“If we fill ourselves up with protein, we’re going to feel more healthy, and we will go for healthier snacks and healthier meals. We’re not going to feel tired, and we’re going to want to work out. We’ve found that eating more protein really helps with everything in our lives,” she adds.

Tips and tricks

To help participants reach their goals, the website includes information about how to choose lean proteins, as well as potential menu selections at a number of popular restaurants, such as Starbucks, Wendy’s and Subway.

The website also provides snack ideas such as cheese, nuts and beef jerky, as well as a full range of recipes for every meal. With ideas such as beef breakfast burritos, steak and blue cheese wraps and Szechuan beef stir-fry, participants can find meals they may have not tried before.

“We have done a lot of work for beef at breakfast and our culinary center has developed a ton of recipes,” Kearns comments.

The challenge also promotes protein as a whole, although the checkoff program hopes that beef is included on the menu. Foods such as eggs, yogurt and other animal proteins are listed on the website to promote the benefits of protein incorporated in a balanced diet.

Participation

“We promote the challenge on social media, so people can find it on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which sometimes has great recipes for the Protein Challenge,” notes Kearns.

The challenge was inspired by other 30-day lifestyle challenges that are seen on social media platforms, but it is not designed to be hard to complete.

“It’s not one of those really strict challenges. We can really customize it to our own lifestyle and not beat ourselves up if we don’t follow exactly what it says,” she explains.

Beef It’s What’s For Dinner hopes that participants will find easy ways to include protein in their diets and feel the positive benefits of consuming it throughout the day.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Cheyenne – Safeway ran a special on the front page of their Denver-area advertisement the week before Thanksgiving selling bone-in New York strip steaks for $4.67 a pound with a club card. At $4.67 a pound, consumers could buy strip steak for less than they could 10 years ago.

The bigger question from this advertisement was, how often is beef featured on the front page and above a turkey advertisement the week before Thanksgiving?

Jim Robb, senior agricultural economist with the Livestock Marketing Information Center, told beef producers during the Range Beef Cow Symposium in Cheyenne that the retail market is changing as retailers like Safeway try to find ways to compete with home delivery retailers like Amazon.

Featuring beef

Featuring beef in retail markets is contributing to the higher prices the beef industry is presently enjoying, he said.

“If consumers are going to pay a premium to consume beef, they will expect a quality product. If we plan to cut costs, don’t sacrifice the quality of the product we produce,” he cautioned the group.

“The U.S. economy is growing, and consumer sentiment is as good as it was in 2003-04,” he said. “Unemployment is as low as it has been in years, and consumer income is going up. It is creating an economic environment that is favorable to the beef industry.”

“The market is much better than we thought it would be a year ago at this time,” he added.

Drawing consumers

The packer margin was the best ever in history in 2016, and 2017 is even better, Robb continued. The spread between wholesale and retail prices shows that retailers have started to feature beef, and that has caused the retail margin to go down.

“They are featuring beef products to get people into the retail stores,” Robb explained. “In a modern world, how do we compete with home delivery? What do retail stores have to offer? The retail industry has become very competitive over consumers, and they are using beef to get people to come into the stores.”

“Safeway has said they are surprised, when they feature beef, how many more people come into the store and how much beef they can sell. This plays a major part in the story of how the cattle market got to where it is now,” he explained.

The pet food isle is also changing the marketplace.

“The pet food section is growing. Part of it is fresh, and the rest is frozen items,” Robb explained. “Millenials pay more per pound to feed their pets than they do their newborn children.”

Consumption

Per capita consumption of beef in the U.S. has decreased, and more beef is being exported.

“Per capita consumption is not demand,” Robb stressed.

“Beef is very susceptible to demand and the macro-economy, more so than pork or chicken,” he explained. “Presently, beef demand is growing faster than the economy. The beef demand profile is as good as it was in 2004, but it didn’t get us the cattle market we have today, although the domestic consumer has helped.”

The biggest issue in the meat animal industry is the sheer amount of total red meat and poultry we are growing in the U.S., he said.

“We are producing record amounts of animal proteins,” Robb said. “It is not an issue, except for how much we are going to ask people to eat.”

He added, “In 2018, we are asking people to consume nearly 219 pounds on a retail weight basis. We have to get something going to move the largest amount of meat we have produced since 2007. It is a big risk in the marketplace.”

Calf prices strong

Robb noted calf prices are also stronger than a year ago, which has been a pleasant surprise.

“A lot of things have come together to give us a stronger market than we had a year ago,” he explained.

In 2017, the markets have been closer to normal and are adjusting to the economic realities of recent years. In the fourth quarter of 2016, Southern Plains steer calves averaged $1.38. This year, steers are higher at $1.68.

“We have a dynamic marketplace, but unless something happens in the market, prices will be pretty normal,” Robb suggested. “Prices are nearer to the bottom than they were. This market, in the next couple years, is turning. We expect lower prices the next two years, but prices may be stronger for calves by 2020 -21.”

Robb predicts $1.43 in the Southern Plains for steer calves in 2018-19.

The ability of the market system to move cattle through has contributed to better cattle prices.

“Essentially, for the first time since 2003, the market pulled the animals through the feedlots,” Robb said. “That has held the weights down, along with a strong demand for cattle. Usually, we are trying to push animals through the marketing system.”

Cull cow prices are currently at a seasonal low.

“There is a very good market for products coming out of these cull cows, so if producers have the forage available, I would recommend holding onto them and feeding them awhile,” he said.

“The cattle cycles are still with us,” Robb related. “The calf crop is getting bigger, but we are marketing more cows this year, which may indicate the rate of herd expansion is slowing down.”

He anticipates an increase of one to 1.5 percent for 2018, compared to three percent at the beginning of 2017.

“The herd is still growing at a smaller rate, but it is at a manageable level,” he said.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

For National Beef, increased marbling and improved quality grade has been important in providing supply to meet demand from consumers. 

Chad Barker, vice president of procurement for National Beef, says the number of cattle grading Choice has increased from about 45 percent to almost 85 percent Choice today. 

“Grading has improved, but it hasn’t changed our focus,” Barker said. “We still look for the high Choice, Prime, quality, black-hided kind of cattle.” 

“The quality has improved so quickly, it’s hard to imagine,” he added. “I think we will see the same kind of improvement over the next four or five years that we’ve seen in the last five.”

With the trajectory set, Barker sees the goal of 100 percent Choice cattle occurring in the next five years. He also notes their focus will shift toward soundness and quality coupled with efficiency and feedlot performance. 

“Ranchers and feedlots have accomplished so much in improving Choice, and I feel like Prime is our next big opportunity as an industry,” Barker said. “Hopefully, we can balance it with the supply and grow the demand as the supply grows.”

Barker hopes to see the amount of Prime grading cattle increase from one percent today to an average of five percent or better on a weekly basis. 

“At those levels, we can start having guys feature Prime beef, expect to get it and hopefully build the business to grow along with the cow/calf guys and feedlots that are producing for us,” he said.

Beef grades

Additionally, the announcement that Select grade beef will be all but phased out by 2025 means Choice will be the lowest quality available to consumers. 

“The Choice grade breaks down into High Choice, Average Choice and Low Choice,” explained the Red Angus Association of America (RAAA) in a white paper. “Corresponding scores for those three divisions are Moderate, Modest and Small, in declining order. Of significance is that upper two-thirds Choice carcasses are often cooler-sorted branded beef programs, such as Certified Angus Beef, Sterling Silver or Tyson’s Chairman’s Reserve.”

As a result of genetic improvements, specifically selection of genetics related to higher marbling, has positively affected beef quality grades, said RAAA. Seedstock producers have trended towards high-marbling bulls and females both. 

“Commercial producers, for their part, did what the market was telling them to do and bid aggressively on the higher-marbling bulls seedstock suppliers offered. Observable marbling premiums in the wholesale beef market translated back down the supply chain, resulting in both greater demand for and a larger supply of high-marbling genetics,” RAAA added.

Beef demand

The Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) noted beef demand is up 15 percent since 2012 according to January retail sales data from IRI Freshlook.

“Strong consumer beef demand is expected to continue into 2019 with USDA predicting consumers in the United States will eat 8.9 percent more beef this year than in 2015,” CBB added. “Much of beef’s demand is driven by ground beef and loin cuts which are particularly popular with consumers at the grocery store.”

Travis O’Quinn, assistant professor of meat science at Kansas State University, believes consumers have been clearly communicating that Choice beef is preferred over Select, saying, “There is sound evidence Select beef will fail to meet consumer eating expectations about 25 percent of the time. This percentage decreases significantly at higher quality grades – Choice and Prime. Thus, we have hard data supporting the fact that with the increase in Choice beef production and the reduction of Select the overall eating quality of U.S. beef is improving. This trend represents a positive change made by the industry.” 

Barker spoke during a recent edition of Angus Video New Report, sponsored by Certified Angus Beef. Learn more at angus.org.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

New Orleans, La. – The changing face of the beef industry and the consumer population means cattle producers across the country must actively consider influences that impact production, according to Rabobank’s Bill Cordingley. 

Cordingley, who serves as managing director and head of Wholesale Banking for Rabobank’s Chicago Office, kicked off the Cattlemen’s College at the 2019 Cattle Industry Convention and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Trade Show, held in New Orleans, La. from Jan. 28 to Feb. 1. 

“There are changing expectations in the U.S. beef industry and big opportunities from a demand perspective as social, economic, political and demographic forces at play fundamentally change,” he noted. “They all require a response along the value change.”

“With changing expectations, there are no doubt big opportunities, and there are certainly challenges that need to be addressed,” Cordingley said. “In my view, the future stability and strength of our industry, in our companies, our communities and our families depend on how we engage around issues moving forward and, frankly, right now.”

Industry drivers

As he thinks about cattle production in the U.S. and around the world, Cordingley asked beef producers if what they are doing today will be enough to sustain both individual operations and the beef industry as a whole into the future.

“There are several drivers I think will be important,” he described. “The first driver is technology. For me, technology is both a huge challenge and an opportunity that simply cannot be underestimated.” 

Cordingley continued that, while the emergence of technology in the industry is not new, the pace of change in technology has revolutionized the cattle industry. 

“The pace of change has accelerated,” he said. “Generation X-ers and Baby Boomers have seen technology transformation that has been stunning.”

From the implementation of e-mail and the world wide web to the emergence of cell phone, Cordingley said, “All this technology has disrupted and even destroyed industries at a pace we haven’t seen before.”

Consumers

While technology has revolutionized cattle production, it has had a remarkable impact on the consumer, as well, according to Cordingley.

“The consumer is now more informed than ever, and they can speak to anyone about anything,” he said. “Opinions online are driving consumers, and for many consumers, it is confusing.” 

The challenge for the beef industry, he continued, is figuring out how to interface with consumers as science and facts become less persuasive. 

“If someone has made up their mind and doesn’t agree with something, all the science in the world will probably not change their view,” Cordingley explained, noting social media provides a venue for many opinions about food products to emerge. “Those active on social media are creating space for consumers to talk, and despite the obvious challenge, there’s also tremendous opportunity for the industry.”

While consumers look online for information, Cordingley said they are also seeking “real stories about real people involved in raising cattle to address questions. Social media provides cattle producers the opportunity to tell their story. It is a huge opportunity to connect with consumers directly and help them feel better about the beef they’re eating.” 

“The second big driver of change – linked to the first – is the changing consumer,” Cordingley said. “Eating food is now more complex than ever.”

Consumers are focusing on eating for good, meaning they seek to consume products that are good for themselves, their community, the environment and the planet, Cordingley explained. 

“In other words, we see conscious consumers,” he said. “With information overload from the internet, we also see conscious consumers conflicted with too much information.” 

Social capital

To continue to produce in the beef industry, Cordingley emphasized producers must build social capital. 

“By social capital, I mean our license to operate,” he explained. “Social license in the industry involves what we do and how we use land, water and sunshine to produce beef. It comes down to trust.”

Cordingley continued, “When we lose trust, we lose money, and the social license the beef industry operates under today is clearly under discussion and being challenged.” 

Issues with animal welfare, environmental impacts, human nutrition and the healthfulness of beef continue to be questioned by consumers, and though many of the issues aren’t new, Cordingley said the industry must address them now or risk losing consumers. 

“These drivers are complex and important in the industry,” he said. “How the industry attacks these challenges and turns them into opportunities will determine how large and profitable the industry is in the future.” 

“There’s no room for error, either, particularly from a consumer and social license perspective. Trust and authenticity in the industry is key, and a commitment to continuous improvement is essential for beef producers,” Cordingley commented. “The message must get out that the industry, individually and collectively, is engaged in the important work of providing safe and nutritious food for people in a responsible and ever-improving way.” 

Look for more information from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Cattle Industry Convention in New Orleans, La. in next week’s Roundup.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..