By Clay Holcomb
The beef industry provides us with more than just the food we eat every day. Most of the items we enjoy incorporate a beef byproduct. To understand the impact the beef industry has on us, we must first recognize what byproducts are, the export market for them, and the value added to the carcass by acquiring these products.
Byproducts such as the offal, blood, hides, and rendered products all come from parts of the animal’s body that are not included in the packaged meat that we buy at the butcher. According to “Where’s the (not) Meat,” an article by USDA, “The use of animal byproducts dates back to early civilization, with hides used for clothing and intestines used for food containers.”
These byproducts can make up nearly 44 percent of the weight of an animal before being processed. The use of these byproducts is widespread, with hides being used for leather. Fats and fatty acids are used in makeup, antifreeze and paint. Piano keys, marshmallows, and shampoo are all examples of products that are derived from the bones, horns, and hooves of cattle.
These are just a few examples of items we use every day that would not be possible without the beef industry. One carcass can produce more than 350 byproducts, with the most common being hides and the variety meats such as livers and kidneys. According to Steve Kay of Cattle Buyers Weekly, “The USDA refers to byproducts as the ‘fifth’ quarter as they rely on the value of carcass byproducts to cover a large portion of the costs of processing.”
Many lesser-known byproducts are used in the pharmaceutical sector. Their importance is invaluable as there is often no available substitution. One of the most valuable byproducts is bovine fetal blood. Bovine fetal blood comes from cull cows and fed heifers that are taken to the packer. Fetal blood yields a serum after being placed in a centrifuge, separating the rest of the components of the blood away. Serum, very important in the manufacture of human and animal vaccines, is not often talked about but is one of the most critical byproducts due to its scarcity and importance to human and animal well-being.
In foreign export markets, edible byproducts such as the variety meats are in strong demand, due to our premium product and lower price when compared to the domestic products of the countries we export to. In the last 10 years, byproducts have made up over 35 percent of U.S. beef and veal exports.
Not only does the beef industry add more value to the carcass by utilizing these products, they also avoid the costs associated with disposing of these byproducts. According to the Economic Research Service of the USDA, “A one-dollar increase in the value of byproducts to processors adds about 10 cents to the average price paid per hundredweight to producers of fed steers.”
Typically, as income rises and falls, domestic beef demand rises and falls. As consumers feel wealthier, they buy more beef and more expensive retail cuts. The opposite is true when consumers feel a tighter budget, opting for cheaper substitutes.
A consequence of the coronavirus is the increase of beef prices to the consumer, though everyone with involvement in the beef industry will notice the effects. Higher prices are an effect of large packing plants closing their doors temporarily due to worker sickness.
According to the Houston Chronicle, as of May 5, 167 plants had virus outbreaks and over 9,400 workers have been affected. The shortage of beef is not caused by live animal supply but a lack of available processors. Many small-town processors are booked as far as five months out.
Byproducts are not only important to the processors; they are essential in establishing what the packers are able to pay for fed cattle, thus, in turn affecting what feedlot managers are able to pay for cattle.
Many members of the public may enjoy beef every day around the dinner table, but we all enjoy the items brought to us by the beef industry through the utilization of byproducts.
Clay Holcomb, a 2016 South Barber High School graduate, graduated this spring with a Bachelor of Science in animal science from Fort Hays State University. He is the son of Tom and Cris Holcomb, Kiowa.