Graduate students instrumental in conducting National Beef Quality Audit

By Rachel Glascock

Approximately every five years since 1991, Texas A&M University takes part in the research and data collection for the National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA).

Meat science graduate students in the Department of Animal Science who conducted the 2011 NBQA were Gatlan Gray, Russell McKeith and Melanie Moore.

According to the Beef Quality Assurance website, “These industry wide research efforts collect and analyze data and disseminate information related to the physical characteristics of finished steers and heifers arriving at harvest facilities.”

Furthermore, they ensure that the results of these audits have and will be used to “identify strategies and tactics to guide further improvements in beef production.”

Dr. Jeff Savell,  regents professor and holder of the E.M. “Manny” Rosenthal Chair in  meat science,  said, “The National Beef Quality Audit provides a target for people to measure what they’re doing and they can then figure out where they are in comparison to the rest of the industry. The NBQA provides a benchmark that we can teach and learn from.”

The NBQA has three phases that work together to create a cohesive snapshot of the industry. Phase one targets all segments of the industry including producers, feeders, packers, retailers, food service, government and allied industries, and distributors by interviewing the participants and recording their responses.  Phase two looks more in depth to the beef processing plants and the actual carcass characteristics. Finally, phase three includes online and written surveys that are conducted by cattlemen and dairymen to identify the adoption of beef quality assurance management principles.

Gray, McKeith and Moore were all designated to work on phase two; however, each had very different roles within their seemingly similar assignment.

Gray was charged with the responsibility of compiling instrument grading data from 17 federally inspected plants, representing the four largest beef corporations in the United States.

“What made this task particularly challenging,” Gray said, “was harmonizing different types of data collected from the four corporations and compiling them all to yield the information we were seeking, not to mention working with over 2.4 million observations.”

Moore had the opportunity to travel from plant to plant collecting individual carcass data. She obtained the majority of the same data that Gray was analyzing such as ribeye area, fat thickness, carcass weight, kidney, pelvic and heart fat, quality grade and some of the common defects. Comparing Gray and Moore’s research, Moore’s data represented the major packing plants from various parts of the country, like Gray’s, however, the total number of carcass observations was just over 9,000, which is right in line with the traditional audits.

“Gray and Moore’s observations are so closely related that it almost comes as a surprise, all while giving the confidence that both collection methods are predictive of each other and that is a strong complement to the way we have been collecting this information in years past,” Savell said.

McKeith’s work analyzed physical characteristics collected on the harvest floor of eight different plants representing five beef packing corporations. The data collected included: hide color, significant bruising, carcass condemnations, animal identification and detention records to assess maturity.

“Something I found particularly interesting is that we recorded an increase in individual animal identification when compared to previous audits,” McKeith said.

Numbers are merely numbers if they are not able to create meaning. When asked how the results of the 2011 NBQA would affect the future of the industry, Moore believes that “the data collected can be used to continue the industry’s strengths and to pinpoint areas that need improvement.”

Gray added, “With the opportunity to utilize the method of online, electronic collection of data, I foresee instrument grading data sets as being an efficient way of observing the seasonal changes of carcass characteristics that will allow a large amount of information to be reported.”

McKeith said, “The major findings of my report showed that producers are increasing the number of black-hided cattle sent to slaughter, and that our industry still needs improvement where bruising is concerned.“

Savell commends the students who worked hard to tackle this large project.

“Working with Gray, Moore and McKeith was a very good experience. I appreciate that they all worked hard and got their stuff done. It’s already available online and people can access the information.”

“It is an honor for me to get to work with all of the students in the past who have been a part of this project, and I am grateful for all the friendships I have made throughout my years of working on the quality audits.”

To view the complete National Beef Quality Audit, visit


Rachel Glascock is a meat science graduate student from Pilot Point, Texas.

For more information regarding news from the Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Texas A&M University, please contact Courtney Coufal at or (979) 845-1542.

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