Analysis Of The Beef Production Industry In The United States

‘Beef is the flesh of a cow, bull, or ox as food’ (Oxford Dictionaries). Meat is part of the human diet for at least 2. 6 million years and the human brain would probably not be evolved when meat had not been incorporated in our diet. After domestication around 8000 BC, the consumption and production of beef increased (Wyness, 2016). After poultry and pork, beef is the most consumed meat in the world nowadays. The global beef production had an extreme increase from 28 million tons in 1961 to 68 million tons per year in 2014 (Ritchie & Roser, 2018). The nutritional composition and quality of beef will always variate since it is a natural product and it is dependent on breed, season and other factors. Beef is a rich source of biological active proteins. It contains 19. 3 grams of proteins per 100 grams which is relatively high compared to other food products (Souci, Fachmann, & Kraut, 2009). All essential amino acids are included in the proteins. Most beef is low in sodium and fat however it contains essential polyunsaturated fats. Next to this, beef is rich in essential minerals like zinc and iron.

The biologically active form of iron can contribute 21% of the recommended iron intake. Furthermore, particularly lean beef is a source for water-soluble B vitamins (Williams, 2007; Wyness, 2016). The United States (US) is the largest producer of beef in the world (20%), followed by Brazil (15%) and the European Union (EU) (13%). The location of the beef production in the US can be explained by the ability for large production systems due to rich agricultural land resources. Furthermore, the beef industry is supported by the large feed grain production. Therefore, it is reasonable that the constant availability of feed grain results in high productivity of the beef industry. Furthermore, this explains the key of success in the world largest beef producers. The US export mostly to Japan, Mexico, South Korea and Canada. Despite the fact that the US produces most beef worldwide, there is still import of beef to the US as well. Beef consumption is the highest in the US followed by the EU, China and Brazil. Due to different regulations of EFSA in the EU compared to other countries, not all countries can export meat to the EU. (Quelle kommt noch)

Primary Production

The agricultural production system for beef starts with the birth of a calf. Depending on the purpose of the calf, it will have a different rearing management and housing system. In this case the calf is reared for beef production, which starts with the rearing phase. After birth the calf is separated from his mother and the other animals to protect the calf against infectious diseases since it has not yet built its immune system. This is also the case if the mother cow is used for milk production. The new-born calves are housed in individual pens and colostrum 22 of the mother is provided to build immunity. To protect the health of the animal, the hygiene of the pen and provision of colostrum is of great importance. In other systems, calves for beef production will remain with their mother until weaning. It is advised to check the consumption of milk or milk replacer and dry feed during the time calves are fed on milk. Therefore, single housing might be preferred. The weaning time may be delayed when consumption is too low. Group housing of calves can be considered when they are aged one week. After the rearing phase, the growing phase starts. Most beef production systems keep their livestock indoors during the year and therefore it is of great importance to meet all the needs of the animals in the housing system.

First of all, the animals must be able to move freely, and animals should be raised in a healthy and social environment. To control and protect all animals in the group, all animals are dehorned. Sufficient area for the amount of animals is provided and there is a regular check that no animal is kept out of the group (CIGR, 2004). When designing the area provided for these animals, it is important to take into account that cattle rest for many hours per day. This resting behavior is caused by the fact that these animals cannot stand for too long. This can be explained by their heavy body weight, which will result in too high pressure on the lower parts of their body. Besides sufficient amount of area, the surface should also not be too slippery. This could cause injuries and chronic stress in the animals. The surface of the floor may also not be too rough since this could cause abrasion of the hooves. Providing enough area is also an important aspect to control the behavior of the beef cattle since it will prevent competition and aggressive behavior. This applies also for the feeding and drinking places. There should be enough drinkers located with enough space around it. And if the animals are fed at the same time, there must be sufficient places. For health purposes, the water should be tested on cleanliness every day and the functioning of the drinkers should be tested, especially when the cattle are on feed with high dry matter content (CIGR, 2004). The dry matter intake of the animals should be optimized to promote their growing performance. The dry matter content of the animal feed should be around 40-55% for optimal intake. The feed should not be too wet or too dry.

Furthermore, too high fibrous ratios are also not preferred because it is slowly fermented. Feed should be checked before given to ensure it is fresh and palatable. This is important to check for molds and therefore prevent disease and to optimize their feed consumption (Better Returns Programme, 2016). Next to this, it is of great importance to clean, disinfect and ventilate the hutches and pens to prevent diseases. Since the livestock buildings are densely stocked with animals, faces, urine and air-borne particles could cause infections when there is not enough ventilation. Despite the fact it will not benefit the general health status and production performance of adult animals, especially young calves are at high risk due to their immature immune system (CIGR, 2004). 23 After the growing phase, the calves have a certain weight and they can enter the finishing phase. During this last phase, the animals are given an energy dense diet, in order to maximize their growth in a short period. The aim is to reach a specific end point in which the animals have a certain weight, carcass weight, degree of fat cover and degree of marbling (intramuscular fat). When this end point is reached, the cattle is transported to the abattoir (slaughterhouse) or first transported to the market. From farm to abattoir, different kind of exposures can influence the animals: increased contact with humans, transport, deprivation of water and food, novel environment, changes in social structure and variation in climatic conditions. To prepare the livestock before transporting, there is no access to food and water anymore to reduce the production of urine and feces. When arrived at the abattoir, all animals have a resting phase with water access. Before slaughter, the animal’s health is checked to ensure it is safe for human consumption. For high quality meat this resting phase is important since stress applied before slaughter could give undesirable effects.

The livestock is brought into a chute, which limits the movements of the animals. Overcrowding should be prevented and adequate ventilation should be provided to minimize stress. After this chute, the animal is stunned often mechanically by firing through the skull of the animal. Afterwards, the animals are suspended in a specific position for exsanguination and processing of the beef starts. The length of the rearing, growing and finishing phases depends on the breed, frame size and target market (Encyclopaedia Britannica). There are different beef production systems. The commercial beef cattle production systems can be divided into intensive, extensive and semi-intensive. Intensive production uses large amounts of labor and capital relative to the provided area and therefore the livestock is completely dependent on humans providing enough food, water and a shelter. While extensive production uses small amounts of labor in relation to the area used and therefore these systems provide more freedom for the cattle. The animals can go outdoors and the have some autonomy over the diet selection by grazing and constant access to water and shelter.

For semi-intensive systems a combination of intensive and extensive methods is used in accordance to climatic conditions and physiological state of the cattle. The disadvantages of intensive farming are the hazards of disease since animals are densely stocked and it requires large investment of specialized facilities and the fecal waste disposal is extensively present. (OIE, 2018) Next to the different intensities of farming, there could be made a division in organic and conventional beef production systems. For organic beef the animal should be raised using organic management practices and it should be separated from non-organic treated animals. It is prohibited to use sub therapeutic antibiotics and growth hormones however preventative medical care and vitamin and mineral supplements are allowed to use. The feed of the cattle should be organically produced, which is free of animal by-products. And there should be 24 access to outdoors, shade, exercise areas, fresh air, direct sunlight and pasture. In an evaluation of organic, conventional and intensive beef farm systems it was seen that organic calves presented less condemnations compared with conventional calves and especially compared to the intensive farmed calves (AgMRC, 2018; Blanco-Penedo et al. , 2012).

Processing And Packaging

Processing of meat is done to preserve, enhance or change taste and texture to ensure food safety and quality. Processing of beef starts directly after slaughtering. The feet and head are removed, and the animal is suspended in a specific position for exsanguination. After bleeding the skin is removed with care since it can be used for leather manufacturing and the carcass is opened in the middle to remove the internal organs. After this it is washed thoroughly in order to prevent contamination. Then the carcasses are brought to a chilled area in which they can undergo rigor mortis and ageing. After slaughtering, energy supply for the muscles will be delivered by anaerobic respiration since oxygen is no longer available. Therefore, lactic acid will be produced until energy sources are depleted. By producing lactic acid, the pH of the meat will be lowered. Rigor mortis is the stiffening of the muscles as a result of depleted energy sources (Preston, Willis, & Willis, 1982). Rigor mortis could take 12-24 hours for beef (FAO, 2007). After rigor mortis, proteolytic enzymes will degrade the muscle-complex, which is called ageing. During this process beef gets its tenderness and it result in improved flavor and aroma (Linssen, 2017). Conditions related to relative humidity, temperature and air ventilation are essential for ageing beef. If the beef is cooled to fast to a low temperature, shortening will occur due to extreme muscle contractions. On the other side excessive aging will result in too high accumulation of microorganisms.

Furthermore, poor sanitation during slaughtering, chilling and processing could cause contamination of microorganisms. Besides the fact that rigor mortis is important for tenderness, aroma, flavor and the pH of beef, this process will also influence the water holding capacity and color of beef. Feed of the animal and pre-slaughter conditions of the animal like stress and energy storage are factors influencing this process. Allowing this process to occur is already a mild form of processing. Therefore, meat products found for consumption have all been processed in some way, which can range from a simple cutting to smoking to whole prepared meat meals. There are different kinds of meat processing techniques used; cutting, mixing, salting or curing, utilization of spices, stuffing into casings, fermentation, drying, heat treatment and smoking (Linssen, 2017). Packaging is used to protect the beef after processing, during transport and storage from contamination by microorganisms, toxic substances and dirt, against moisture uptake and 25 against color, smell and taste changes and protects against bruising. By protecting it against all these factors, the shelf life of beef could be enhanced. For beef, modified atmosphere packaging also known by MAP, is used a lot since it ensures microbial safety however more important; it enhances the quality of the beef. Myoglobin is a protein present in the tissue of the animals and causes the color of fresh meat (dark pink). The deep red color, characteristic for beef, caused by oxy-myoglobin could be remained due to a high percentage of oxygen included in the atmosphere of the package. This package ensures microbial safety by the presence of enough carbon dioxide in the gas mixture. Vacuum packaging is less preferred since the beef product will turn brownish. This brown color appeared because myoglobin turned into met-myoglobin since absence of oxygen. This brown color could be prevented by treatment with carbon monoxide since it will replace oxygen due to higher binding affinity and therefore the color of the beef remains red. However, this might mislead the consumer because the meat will remain red even after spoilage (Kerry, 2002).

Distribution And Retail

Many players are involved from the primary production till the beef reaches the consumer. Producing the food is only half of the work since efficient distribution and retail is crucial to complete the supply chain. Not all beef products reach the consumer and might never consumed since they were wasted. More perishable products can allow fewer handling exchanges than products with a long shelf life like peas for example. This can be explained by the fact that there is a higher chance to have damages and losses of beef product when more handling exchanges are included. And since beef is a perishable product of high value, the time until it reaches the consumer should be minimized, which will be promoted by less handling exchanges.

Furthermore, when more handling exchanges are included the attached costs will be higher. Therefore, it is important to have efficiency in transport and distribution of beef. One of the most important aspects of distribution and retail of beef is cold chain management to ensure safety and quality of the beef products. By keeping the meat at low temperature during transport and distribution will ensure there is no risk for growth of pathogenic bacteria. Besides this, sufficient refrigerating will prevent quality reduction due to the rich composition of meat. Proteins, lipids and water are prone to degradation reactions and will cause shrinkage, unpleasant odors or colors and texture changes (Nastasijević, Lakićević, & Petrović, 2017).

Losses And Waste

In industrialized regions like the US and Europe, waste at consumption level makes up half of the total meat losses and waste production. For developing regions, losses were more or less equal for each step in the production chain (FAO). 26 In the production chain of beef multiple steps may result in losses and waste production. Dependent on the efficiency of the specific beef supply chain more or less waste is produced. During the primary production manure is the main waste product produced and therefore manure management is important. Jayathilakan et al. , (2012) found that 11. 4 % of the gross income of cattle is derived from byproducts produced. This increased percentage was due to health concerns and therefore it was not used for human consumption anymore. As a result of this the valued meat became less economic advantageous due to non-food usage. However more important it contributes to environmental pollution. In many countries usage of by-products is limited due to safety and quality reasons (Jayathilakan, Sultana, Radhakrishna, & Bawa, 2012). Changing the regulatory requirements around this could improve sustainability.


To improve a more sustainable beef production; the three different aspects need to be addressed. From an environmental aspect, natural resources should be responsibly managed, and the environment should be improved and protected. The beef’s carbon footprint should be minimized and from a water management view, there should be grown more with less water and less pollution of the water. Secondly, the social aspect should become more sustainable as well by providing health, welfare and behavioral needs for animals. Food safety and traceability should be ensured, and human rights should be respected while a healthy work space is provided, and fair treatment is given through the whole production chain. Furthermore, the business should be operated with integrity and transparency. From an economical view, a more sustainable beef production could be realized if there is contributed to economic sustainability and when there is more efficiency through the supply chain.

15 April 2020
Your Email

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and  Privacy statement. We will occasionally send you account related emails.

close thanks-icon

Your essay sample has been sent.

Order now
Still can’t find what you need?

Order custom paper and save your time
for priority classes!

Order paper now