Certified Angus Beef is a brand established in 1978 and has been headquartered in Wooster since 1994. The organization does not own any farms or cattle. Instead, they serve the industry as a non-profit advocacy organization while also managing the Certified Angus Beef label and maintaining ten quality specifications and multiple requirements for the ranches that sell under the label. Their story started in 1975 when Ohio Angus producer Harold Etling had a bad steak for dinner, one that was represented as “Angus” but did not meet his standards. concerned that others might have a similar experience in ways that could damage the reputation of his industry, Etling came up with an idea to create an association-backed license for retailers and restaurants to market premium Angus beef. He pitched his idea to a local member of the American Angus Association Board of Directors and, three years later, the program made its debut. Today, it is the largest and most recognized brand of beef in existence with cattle ranchers across the U.S. supplying millions of pounds of beef to thousands of locations around the world.
The Certified Angus Beef® (CAB) brand started as the brainchild of Harold Etling, a rancher who produced Black Angus cattle on his family farm in Marshallville, Ohio. His idea to create an association-backed license for retailers and restaurants to market premium Angus came because the USDA had recently lowered their standards for the top grades of beef. Etling and other ranchers were concerned that, without some form of trustworthy quality control, consumer demand for beef would fall. This was a problem Etling experienced directly after having a bad steak for dinner. He discussed his idea with a local member of the American Angus Association Board of Directors who then brought it up to other members of the Board. The Board considered it, and in late 1976 asked Angus Regional Manager Louis “Mick” Colvin to research whether or not consumers would pay more for a certified product. Colvin’s positive answers lead to the establishment of the Certified Angus Beef® brand, initially launched from Colvin’s home in West Salem, Ohio, in January of 1978.
When CAB first started it was a small pilot program funded by the American Angus Association, but Colvin worked hard to grow it. He met with industry representatives daily and secured a licensed packer as well as a licensed retailer within the first year. On October 18, 1978, a mere ten months after its start, the first pound of beef under the CAB trademark was sold. Immediately after this landmark moment, however, the USDA ordered that the program be discontinued. This was done under the belief that CAB was misleading consumers and tricking them into paying more for the same quality meat. The USDA re-approved the program in April of the following year after months of campaigning by Colvin, during which he had filled out mountains of paperwork and gradually convinced them the program was legitimate. Today CAB sells millions of pounds of beef a day from thousands of restaurants and retailers located in over forty countries around the world.
CAB’s success is linked to a plethora of standards that must be met by all cattle and beef that carry its label. For starters, their cattle must have at least a 51% rate of solid black hide (one of the more controversial criteria, but almost all Angus cattle fit this requirement) and must be cared for and slaughtered humanely, largely in line with methods developed by Temple Grandin. Should they pass those requirements, independent USDA cattle graders determine if the beef meets CAB‘s other specifications. No one who works for CAB does the actual grading; it is only their job to uphold and market the standards. CAB does, however, judge its meat by ten quality specifications in order to ensure quality in all its products, including modest or higher marbling (fat content) and a 10-16 square inch ribeye area (muscle content). These, along with eight other requirements, ensure that only the highest quality beef receives the CAB label, thereby providing the association-backed trustworthy quality control license Etling sought after that bad steak forty years ago.