National Beef Quality audits prove that Canadian beef is pretty darn good.
But they also show that producers could be putting more money in their wallets by reducing defects that show up at the packing plant, says Mark Klassen, director of technical services with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.
The last audit, conducted in 2010-11, found that quality defects added up to $61.80 per head.
“It’s a significant loss of money. Ultimately these costs impact the entire supply chain, but it’s often producers in particular,” said Klassen.
A new audit is currently underway and full results won’t be ready until next year, but Klassen shared some early findings at the recent Canadian Beef Industry Conference. The news is both good and bad.
Horns are one source of economic loss, but the new audit found 90 per cent of cattle are polled compared to 88 per cent the last audit.
However, 79 per cent of the carcasses had manure and mud on the hide — which is called tag — compared to 74 per cent in 2010-11. Removing tag can damage the hide and there are food-safety concerns.
“The research is a bit controversial, but some people say that having excess tag can increase the risk of contamination,” said Klassen.
Liver damage is another issue. A liver is worth about $10 to a packer and liver problems can affect an animal’s growth and the quality of the carcass.
“Eighteen per cent of livers that we looked at had significant abscesses,” said Klassen, noting that’s up sharply from the 10 per cent incidence in the last beef quality audit.
“It’s not an easy issue to address, but it does have consequences, especially at the packing side,” he said.
Injection site lesions show up in two ways — on the surface, and then inside the steak itself. About five per cent of carcasses had visible injection site lesions compared to two per cent in the 2010-11 audit.
There was also a slight increase (13 per cent versus 12 per cent) in the use of brands.
“When the hide has a brand on it, obviously, you don’t want that on your leather jacket or your car seat, so that area has to be removed,” said Klassen.
Lenders often request producers use brands to identify their animals, but “as we all know, that management practice is considered an animal welfare issue by some people,” he added.
Bruises are another significant issue and can lead to a lot of trimming. Thirty-six per cent of cattle had bruises. Most were minor, which is one way that auditors can measure progress on animal welfare issues, said Klassen.
Given the high price of beef, reducing quality problems may be the best way for producers to make more money, he said.
“It’s probably not going to be as easy to increase the average retail beef prices, especially when chicken is more affordable,” he said.
Klassen also highlighted carcass weights in his presentation, pointing to Canfax data that shows they have been rising by about eight pounds annually.
“At this point and in years past, we do tend to be heavier than the U.S. — particularly for the last three years, by about 22 to 77 pounds,” said Klassen.
“This increase in weights has helped us maintain our beef production, while recognizing that we have fewer animals,” he said. “It’s been essential, but how long it can continue is really in question.”