Where does beef come from?

The United States is home to the most dynamic beef production system in the world.    While the U.S. ranks 4th in terms of total cattle inventory (behind India, Brazil and China, respectively), total production ranks it as the world’s leader in terms of overall production (nearly 25 billion lb annually).  Moreover, the United States also serves as one of the world’s leading beef exporters (behind India, Brazil and Australia from a tonnage perspective) but also holds the distinction as being the primary source of high-quality beef for many of the world’s key export markets.     Key export markets for the U.S. beef industry include NAFTA partners Mexico and Canada along with Japan and South Korea.   Aside from beef products, variety meats and hides also serve as important sources of revenue derived from the export market.  

The United States is also a primary destination for the world’s beef trade being the globe’s largest importer of beef and/or beef products (on a tonnage basis).    Russia, Japan and South Korea follow behind the United States when discussing beef imports.   

The United States supports approximately 30 million beef cows located in all fifty states, involving over 700,000 individual producers at the farm or ranch level.  Management practices vary widely across the United States depending upon geographical location and type of overall farming or ranching operation.  That is, a rancher in New Mexico likely manages his/her cowherd very differently compared to an operation in Iowa versus a ranch in Florida.  States with the largest cow populations include Texas, Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma and South Dakota, respectively.    Simultaneously, the United States also facilities the world’s most sophisticated feeding production system – the majority of which occurs in the High Plains states of Texas, Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado; significant cattle feeding also occurs in Iowa.

Per capita beef consumption in the United States is approximately 55 lb. with annual expenditures equivalent to approximately $275 per person (compared to $155 and $145 for pork and broilers, respectively).    Beef products source from various primal cuts of the beef carcass with four key primal wholesale cuts comprising approximately 90% of the beef carcass including the round, loin, rib and chuck – in aggregate the four comprise approximately 90% of the beef carcass.   The round and chuck are typically referred to as “end meats” while the loin and rib are referred to as “middle meats”.     

Beef products in the United States are also classified according to USDA Quality Grades that include Prime, Choice, Select and Standard and serve as well-established indicators of eating satisfaction and consistency.  USDA Quality Grades are based upon maturity and intramuscular fat deposition (typically referred to as “marbling”).  Increased marbling in a beef carcass equates to a higher quality grade ranking (e.g. Prime) versus less marbling (e.g. Select).     The market subsequently prices products accordingly.     Other designations in the marketplace may also occur around various market-based programs (though also fall under USDA regulation).     

Beef is a primary source of high-quality protein, iron and zinc.   A lean, 3-oz serving of beef contains less than 200 calories while also providing over 20 g of protein.

**Source: Nevil Speer