W4177: Enhancing the Competitiveness and Value of U.S. Beef

(Multistate Research Project)

Status: Active


The dramatic twenty-year decline in beef demand that began in the late 1970s, resulted in a 50% decline in beef demand by the late 1990s (Tonsor, 2016a). This demand shock has resulted in dramatic changes in the way cattle are raised, fed cattle are marketed, and how carcasses are fabricated over the last twenty-years. As a result, beef demand has increased 20%, but still remains 40% below its pre-1980 levels.   

Evolving domestic and international consumer preferences for protein sources driven by economic and health issues are affected by food safety concerns, international trade restrictions on beef, and public perception of animal health versus the drive to improve animal production and fabrication productivity. Improving the competitive position of beef in the world market is a complex issue that confronts the beef industry as it competes in a global market.  Federally funded research to support this type of collaborative research activity is necessary as the U.S. beef industry continues to confront complex challenges that require a multi-disciplinary, integrated approach involving participants from animal science, meat science, and economics.  To better understand the relationship in the beef industry between price and product quality, animal/meat scientists and economists need to work together to explore issues affecting beef demand.

For instance, among the items in a 2015 national survey conducted by the Beef Checkoff were two revealing questions to consumers of beef in restaurants and at home: (1) Is beef great tasting and (2) Is beef always tender.  For beef consumed at home, 91% said it was great tasting but just 58% said it was always tender.  For beef consumed in a full-service restaurant, 90% agreed completely or somewhat that beef was great tasting but just 61% felt it was always tender (National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, 2015).  Data collected by Erickson et al. (2014) revealed that 80% of overall palatability ratings were related to beef tenderness. Clearly, among domestic consumers there are opportunities to increase satisfaction by improving tenderness. This a natural area of collaboration across committee member disciplines.

In the last three decades, past and current members of this committee have made significant contributions to the advancement of knowledge in the areas of red meat production and fabrication, food safety, consumer preferences for red meat products, understanding economic forces that have propelled changes in the structure of the industry, and the change in market participant behavior due to the changing economic climate the beef industry competes in.  The multi-disciplinary research team has decided to continue its focus on beef value at all levels from production through the supply chain to consumer demand. Animal care and health, production and processing, information transfer and marketing, and factors influencing domestic and international demand all affect beef value and thus its competitiveness.

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