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The Tenderness Dilemma

Colorado State University released a looking at three attributes of taste -- flavor, juiciness and tenderness. Prior research indicates tenderness

Colorado State University released a checkoff-funded report looking at three attributes of taste -- flavor, juiciness and tenderness. Prior research indicates tenderness is by far the most important of the trio in regard to consumers' overall satisfaction ratings of the product.

The authors calculated that a 10% increase in tenderness would add $150-$170 million in additional revenue annually to the U.S. beef industry. They also recommended slower chilling of beef carcasses, new methods of suspending carcasses, delayed chilling, mechanical tenderization, increased aging, and other practices to increase the tenderness of our product.

The seedstock industry has been looking at this data for a number of years and continues to study genetic-selection options for improving tenderness. The dilemma is that it remains difficult to measure tenderness in a real-world production setting at the packing plant level; and it's almost impossible at the live-animal level where genetic selection must occur.

DNA tests have been viewed as the ideal solution to this problem, but the industry has been unable to identify a sufficient number of the genes affecting tenderness to make such testing viable from either an economic or genetic standpoint. Relative to tenderness, the industry's focus will continue to be on management practices in the short term, but in the long term genetics will have to play a bigger role.

Today's dilemma is that current technologies, such as those available in the feed efficiency and tenderness areas, just aren't accessible for the most part by the cow-calf industry. And with excess capacity pinching margins in the sectors above the cow-calf level, the industry is currently seeing a retrenchment of the commodity mindset instead of an embracing of the concept of creating value.

The dilemma with tenderness is that we know it has significant economic value, but we just haven't found a way to make the changes genetically or from a management standpoint to capture that value.