Scientists Take Guesswork Out of Assessing
By Ben Hardin
November 16, 1999
CLAY CENTER, Neb., Nov.
16Beef carcasses that will yield steaks with above- average
tenderness can be identified with about 94 percent accuracy using a testing
system developed by Agricultural Research
The new system will enable meat packers to accurately sort carcasses
and market them at prices commensurate with their tenderness, said ARS
Administrator Floyd Horn. ARS is the U.S.
Department of Agricultures chief scientific research agency.
Until now a savvy supermarket shoppers best chance of getting a steak
that would cook up tender and tasty was to pick one well marbled with tiny
flecks of fat. But the scientists, at the Roman L. Hruska U.S. Meat Animal
Research Center (MARC) in Clay Center, found that marbling accounts for only
about 10 percent of variation in beef ribeye tenderness.
In market research at several retail grocery stores in Kansas, MARC
scientists and their collaborators learned just how much people crave a
scrumptious steak. The researchers found that 51 percent of consumers were
willing to pay an average of $1.84 more per pound for a steak that had been
rated as tender.
Under the MARC classification system, a ribeye steak is taken from a chilled
carcass, trimmed and cooked. Then a sample is sheared and measured for
tenderness with an electronic testing machine that supplies data to a computer.
A computerized image analysis of the 1-inch thick ribeye provides an estimate
of how many pounds of retail beef the carcass will yield after bones are
removed and fat is trimmed.
At least five meat processing companies are considering adopting the system.
Small and mid-sized beef packers could easily adapt this technology to their
normal operations, says ARS animal physiologist Mohammad Koohmaraie, who heads
the MARC Meats Research Unit. Further automation would allow high volume
operators to sort up to 400 carcasses per hour without interfering with
standard carcass processing rates.
While the MARC system may make pricing more rational as beef moves from
packing plants to supermarkets, it could also improve marketing efficiency and
production back down on the farm, Koohmaraie says. Live animals with tags or
some other form of identification can be matched with data from the
computerized image analysis. The information can be conveyed to feedlot
managers, helping them better master efficient ways to produce quality beef
thats not overly fat. And cattle breeders can use the information to
improve the genetics of their herds.
Weve found that about 30 percent of the variation in beef ribeye
tenderness can be ascribed to heredity, which may involve expression of many
genes, says Koohmaraie. Because each genes contribution is minor
compared to environmental factors, identifying gene combinations that produce
tenderness would have been nearly impossible when researchers conducted only
classical inheritance studies. But now MARC scientists are refining the cattle
genome map to make the task doable.
An article about the research appears in the November issue of ARS'
Agricultural Research magazine, which can be found on the web at:
The market research on tenderness was partly funded by public and private
grants obtained through the Research Institute on Livestock
Pricing at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and
State University at Blacksburg, Va. Details on the consumer preferences can
be accessed from:
Scientific contact: Mohammad Koohmaraie, ARS
Roman L. Hruska U.S. Meat Animal Research
Center, Clay Center, Neb., phone (402) 762-4222, fax (402) 762-4149,