• Wednesday, December 7, 2016

    What's in a food label? Where is the Angus?

    To continue my blog series on What’s in a Food Label? I thought I would talk about ANGUS. Angus is one of the most popular claims you’ll see on beef, both at the store and at restaurants.

    Angus is a breed of cattle. Just like dogs, cats, and horses, cattle have breeds, and one of the most famous and most popular breeds of beef cattle is the Angus breed. (Side note: a cowboy at the NFR right now is sponsored by the Angus breed. That cowboy is from my hometown!)
    These are come Angus-cross steers on one of our
     research projects at the University of Arkansas.

    Angus cattle originated in the Northeastern region of Scotland. They were black (although a few red ones pop up every now and then) and polled, meaning that they naturally do not grow horns. For years, farmers chose the Angus cows and bulls that produced the best beef, and now the breed is known for its high quality carcasses. Today, beef from Angus and Angus cross cattle are known for their high marbling and good eating quality. 

    Certified Angus Beef. In the 1970’s the Angus Association took a big leap to market their cattle and started Certified Angus Beef.  Certified Angus Beef is a USDA Certified Program which means that the company (CAB) sets the requirements that beef must meet to qualify for their program, but USDA graders certify that all the criteria are met and literally give it a stamp of approval.

    For Certified Angus Beef, those criteria include:
    ·        A minimum marbling score of Modest or higher (meaning it is at least Average Choice)
    ·        A ribeye area of 10.0 to 16.0 square inches
    ·        Less than 1.0 inch of fat thickness
    ·        A carcass weight of less than 1050 pounds

    These are not the only requirements. The cattle must also be of Angus influence which can be shown through their genotype and traced to their parents. Or, more commonly, the cattle must be at predominantly (51%) solid black, and they may not display certain non-Angus characteristics like dairy-type or Brahman humps.

    That means that CAB cattle are not 100% Angus. However, Angus are the only major beef breed of cattle that were originally black, so if a calf is 51% black and meets all the other requirements of CAB, chances are, it has some Angus in its pedigree.

    Other Angus. We see Angus on lots of packages and products that are not Certified Angus Beef. In fact, there are 109 USDA Certified Beef Programs and 71 of them use the word ‘Angus’ in their name. All of them have different criteria for beef quality. Some are high quality programs like CAB, whereas others are for lower quality beef (Select, Commercial, and Utility).

    Additionally, there are several Angus claims on packages and menus that are not USDA Certified Programs, but remember that USDA must approve claims on meat labels, and that includes claims about breed, such as Angus.

    On a personal note, we raise a few Angus cattle. One of my favorite bulls is an Angus named Moses. Several of our Simmental (another beef breed) cows are black, which means that there is an Angus somewhere in their pedigree. That is actually the case for lots of cattle. Because of CAB and the rise in Angus marketing, farmers have selected for cattle with black hides because they can be sold at a premium. In the past couple of decades the number of black cattle going to harvest has risen substantially.

    This is our daughter showing her
    Red Angus calf, Milly. 
    Red Angus. Yes. The Angus cattle carry a recessive gene that causes some of their calves to be red. A whole new breed of cattle has risen from those cattle known as Red Angus. We have a few Red Angus cattle, too.

    One of my favorite Jack-In-The-Box commercials is the one where Jack explains to all of “those of you NOT from Texas” where on the cow the sirloin beef comes for his new Sirloin Burgers. At the end of the commercial, one of the employees says that their competitors are advertising an Angus Burger and asks Jack to point out the Angus part of the cow. Jack looks to the floor and says, “I’d rather not.” So Funny.