Every five years or so, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association releases a National Beef Quality Audit, conducted through the beef checkoff program (checkoff programs collect money from producers to fund promotional campaigns and research). The 2016 audit (published in 2017) consisted of face-to-face interviews with 194 market-sector representatives, in-plant research surveys involving thousands of cattle carcasses at 30 processing facilities across the country, and a strategy session with more than 70 industry individuals.
The audit investigated and drew conclusions about many factors relevant to farm animal health and well-being. For example, in a survey of 10 percent of cattle truck arrivals at 18 plants, auditors found that the maximum time traveled was 39.5 hours over a distance of 1412.9 miles. This time period exceeds the Twenty-Eight Hour Law unless the cattle were offloaded and provided time to rest. Additionally, the transport audit found that the number of lame dairy cattle was 23–24 percent.
The audit included a study of beef carcasses after processing. It revealed that a significant percentage of cattle arrived at the facility with major bruises (45.1 percent of cows and 21.9 percent of bulls). Bruises on cattle are often the result of mishandling and poor processing facility design that cattle experience 24 hours prior to slaughter. This result underscores the importance of humane handling at slaughter.
The audit indicated that the use of hot-iron brands has decreased over the past 25 years, from 45 percent of cattle branded in 1991 to 25.7 percent branded in 2016. Finally, the audit indicated that branding results in a $0.84 per head loss in value over cattle with no branding.