What’s up with beef? The prices, the quality and the demand

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 26, 2013

SALISBURY — If you have visited the grocery store lately and been by the meat counter, you will notice that the price of beef has increased over the past several years.
Some consumers are wandering why beef prices are continuing to rise. Well, here are some of the reasons that beef prices have risen and also some ways that consumers can get the best out of the beef that they buy. In December of 2003 a case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) also known as Mad Cow Disease was reported in Washington state.
I will not get into great detail but encourage you to read the report online and I can assure you that all measures were taken to make sure that the meat supply stayed safe. The result of this is that all exports of meat to other countries were shut down. This led to a decrease in demand for U.S.-produced beef.
Following the BSE case, a drought in the Midwest led to many ranchers and producers having to liquidate beef herds because they were not able to produce or could not afford to buy enough feed. Also, ethanol production led to competitive corn pricing, which means that corn producers that usually sell their corn for animal feed are now being offered higher prices to sell their corn to the ethanol plants. This led to a lower supply of feed and therefore a higher price for feed.
So as the supply of beef declines, the demand for beef continues to stay the same; this results in a higher price at the meat counter. So how do consumers get the most out of the meat they buy and how do you know it is safe?
When it comes to safety, I assure you that the USDA puts very strict regulations on the testing and regulation of beef before, during and after slaughter. Also, there are several programs that have been developed to ensure you are getting a safe and nutritious product. Some of these organizations include Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) and the Beef Checkoff.
Again, I encourage consumers to research these organizations. When it comes to buying beef, consumers need to think about how many people will be eating and how they want to cook their beef. Larger groups of people may want to consider a roast versus six steaks, whereas a family of two may be more efficient to buy a steak versus a roast. When preparing beef, make sure that you take your time cooking it so that the meat is properly cooked and tender as possible.
I encourage all consumers to try and consume as much local beef and grocery products as they can. Local foods are good for consumers and local producers to get to know each other on a personnel basis so that consumers can feel confident in the meat that they are buying.
Thomas Cobb is the Cooperative Extension Agent in Rowan County with dairy and livestock responsibilities. Call 704-216-8970.