For over three decades, the National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA) has provided a framework to evaluate the quality of U.S. beef and identify areas for improvement. The latest audit, conducted in 2022 and funded by the Beef Checkoff program, indicates that the beef industry is producing high-quality beef more efficiently and with a primary focus on food safety.
Initially, the NBQA focused on the physical attributes of beef such as marbling, external fat, carcass weight, and blemishes. However, the scope of the audit has expanded to include food safety, sustainability, animal welfare, and the growing gap between producers and consumers. As a result, the NBQA has become an increasingly useful tool for identifying areas where the industry can capture more value.
The 2022 NBQA included interviews with stakeholders across the industry as well as in-plant research. The findings show that food safety is no longer a purchasing criterion but rather an expectation. The largest improvement since the 2016 audit was increased efficiency across the beef supply chain. Market sectors indicated that they are working to increase their sustainability and collaborate with the entire beef supply chain to achieve this goal.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the industry, but despite the challenges, the beef industry persevered to provide products. More cattle over 30 months of age were harvested due to pandemic pressures. However, the beef industry's image improved within fed cattle market sectors, and there was an increase in the usage of electronic identification (EID).
While the quality of beef being produced has improved, the quality is accompanied by an increase in carcass weight and fat thickness, as well as large increases in percentages of Yield Grade 4 and 5 carcasses. The industry is making strides to decrease the incidence of foreign materials.
The NBQA is conducted approximately every five years, and it helps the industry make modifications necessary to increase the value of its products. The findings from the 2022 NBQA serve to improve quality, minimize economic loss, and aid in advancements in producer education for the U.S. beef industry.
The 2022 NBQA indicates that the beef industry is producing high-quality beef more efficiently with a primary focus on food safety. The audit also provides insight into areas where the industry can continue to improve, including sustainability and decreasing foreign materials' incidence. By using the NBQA's findings to make necessary modifications, the industry can increase the value of its products, improve quality, and aid in advancements in producer education.