The following is a letter that was received from Steve Kinser of Hugoton, Kansas. It is in response to the “Knightro Report” column titled, “Did ‘They’ Finally Get it Right When They Said Meat is Good for You?” His sentiments were expressed by many who thought I had let them down.
Dear Mr. Knight;
Most of the time I find something in your article I feel is educational, or at least I can agree on.
But your September column on fat and beef, I felt was out of whack, and represents the very detrimental attitude that has left beef out of the modern market. After all, we are in a protein market. That means meat.
I am not entirely against fat beef. I think we should supply the demand. If Japan wants super-marbled Wagyu x Beef, raise as much as we can sell. Supply the market with as much prime and choice beef as we can market.
But don’t tell the consumer they don’t know what they want. Alternatively, that we can’t give them high-quality tender, lean beef, because we can. Companies like Laura’s Lean, with a 30% increase in sales last year, shows there is a market. IBP’s new RTMV program shows profitability. I won’t go into how unprofitable feeding to put on fat is.
A beef producer,
I want to address the issues that Mr. Kinser has brought forth, as well as those found in some of the ‘supportive material’ he enclosed in his letter.
PROTEIN: There are sources of protein other than meat, so if we don’t furnish a product that has taste and consumer appeal, we’ll continue to drive the consuming public away from the meat counter.
TENDERNESS: I’ve never implied that low grading beef can’t be tender. Marbling is a contributing factor to tenderness, but other factors contribute more significantly. They include genetics, aging, maturity, chemical tenderization, and cooking. So, you see, tenderness was never the issue when I discussed the benefactors of fat.
Marbling (fat) contributes to TASTE. Taste is the primary reason for grading beef. Young marbled beef that grades choice or prime merely tastes better than the lower grades, which more clearly resemble bison or venison. Chomp down on a piece of meat that is dry (devoid of juiciness), and you’ll run for the steak sauce or anything else you can find to give it some flavor.
A crock-pot does wonders in tenderizing beef, but have you ever tried to grill a steak in one of those things?
The consumers know what they want! They want a product that tastes good, but we’ve tried to confuse them with scare tactics. The consumer has been told that fat isn’t right, (unhealthy) for you, so they have turned to leaner, lower grading beef that tastes more like shoe leather than meat. The result has been one of declining beef consumption. It just doesn’t taste good!
The flip side of their argument is the recent upsurge in beef consumption due to what has been called a quality revolution. I would call it more of an awakening of the taste buds!
For the past several years the consumer has been sampling the new tasteless version of beef, but seldom going back for more. As harmful as this has been to the meat industry, it is reassuring that quality is finding its way back to the forefront, and beef is on the rebound.
NICHE MARKETING PROGRAMS: I‘m not impressed with niche marketing entities that expound huge percentage increases. 100% of nothing is still nothing. There are grandiose, pie in the sky marketing agendas that flaunt well-being while taking advantage of the knowledgeable uninformed. Those are the samplers of the world that won’t be around for the re-orders.
UNPROFITABLE FEEDING: I make no pretense about the cost of feeding to attain the “higher grades,” but let’s get all of the cloaks out of the equation. That includes you, the producer — you have been under the illusion that you are performing some humanitarian service by throwing away the corn bucket and delivering a leaner beef.
Let’s get brutally honest: The only reason you’re buying into this leaner concept is that it saves you the cost of purchasing corn. When you finally find that there is no demand for what you are producing, you will come to realize how little value there is for your marble-less beef.
Now — I take a look at the ‘supportive’ cast of materials that accompanied this letter. Apparently, the author of this material has never spent any time working within the meat-packing industry. He’s merely been a window shopper, looking in from the outside.
The headline read, “Yield Still Drives Carcass Dollars.” This would be true if cattle were sold on a live basis, but how many cattle are marketed that way today? If you are market savvy and maximizing profits, you’re selling on a carcass-valued system.
Yield drives packers decisions regarding price, whether it be that of hanging weight or pounds of salable red meat (yield grade). However, for the producer, it is nothing more than a manipulated figure.
Dressing percentages is a comparison between carcass weight and live weight — take cattle off feed, haul a long distance, time lapse before weighing, or any number of manipulations can affect yield. You can change the live weight by any or all of these gyrations, but the carcass weight will remain constant.
When selling the carcass there is nothing you can do to change the weight (appreciably), so you need to focus on the quality grade and yield grade. This author goes on to cite all kinds of examples of value differences that are created by yield variance. On today’s market, one percent of yield translates into about $1/cwt (live).
So it is evident that manipulated weights (shrunk vs. full) will create a considerable value of differences. This is merely a figment of the producer’s imagination — it isn’t real.
To make my point, I can recall an incident from many years gone past. It was back when the Rath packing company of Waterloo, Iowa, was still in operation. They were promoting an all-Iowa barrow show, where grade and yield results would determine the ultimate winner. I pointed out the fallacy of this concept to an area producer and told him that I would help him win the show with the poorest hog in the barn. We selected the fattest, most ideal weight hog, and then proceeded with the final shrink process.
You guessed it. He won the show because of yield. Needless to say, that concept of evaluating hog shows was never tried again.
Live animal shows are evaluated on a carcass basis, in the same manner as carcass marketing. Moreover, for all of the banter and hand wringing that this author expounds about the insignificance of quality and yield grade values, I beg to differ! Carcass value is based entirely on quality and cutability.
To give credit where credit is due, I agree that muscle contributes to both carcass and yield grade. However, I’m not at all convinced that the USDA grading system gives more credence to excess fat than it does to dollar good red meat.
The term “dollar worthy” is this: Insinuating that there is no difference in the value of red meat. Pounds of red meat without regard to quality is meaningless. Quality and quantity must go hand in hand. One without the other does not express true value.
Mr. Kinser cites an example where USDA graders were not 100% correct in determining yield grade. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s the best that we have, short of doing an actual cut-out on every carcass. Some packers have this capability and others may soon follow. However, until then, let’s respect the best system that we have in place. I like his closing statement, “Producers have to select seed stock that complements their production program in their environment, but those cattle must have value to someone beyond their ownership.”
I couldn’t agree more, as that is precisely what has happened to many of the new exotic breeds. They have not had much value except for their owners. Many producers have fallen in love with various breeds of cattle and modes of production, for all of the wrong reasons.
Producing a lot of red meat at the lowest cost is not the total answer. The aspect of quality will always come to the forefront if we are to continue to satisfy the consumer.