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Date: 8/20/2014

Title: USDA/AMS Asks for Stakeholder Input on Possible Changes to Beef Grades

Last week, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service announced they were seeking public input on possible revisions to the U.S. Standards for Grades of Carcass Beef to adjust for recent improvements and trends in animal raising and feeding. 

When beef is voluntarily graded, the official grade may consist of a quality grade, a yield grade, or both. The quality grades principally refer to the characteristics of marbling and maturity and are intended to identify differences in the flavor and satisfaction of eating cooked beef. The principal official USDA quality grades for young cattle and carcasses are Prime, Choice, Select, and Standard. Significant changes (such as grass fed versus grain fed feeding regimens, instrument grading, management, and export requirements) have taken place in the beef industry since the current grade standards were adopted in 1997. Based on these changes, AMS is seeking input from cattle producers, food processors, the public and other sources before revising the grades to better reflect the characteristics of meat that is available for Americans to purchase.

The yield grade is used to predict the percentage of a carcass that should yield boneless, closely trimmed retail cuts and is an important tool for determining value of both live cattle and beef carcasses. The beef yield grade standard and equation was developed 50 years ago. Changes in that time that have affected the quality of beef have similarly affected carcass yield, and AMS is seeking input for improving the yield grade equation.

AMS is also requesting comments on a review of the USDA program for beef instrument-grading that was conducted by the American Meat Science Association in response to a report issued by USDA’s Office of Inspector General. Both documents can be found here. The beef grading instrument uses elements of the U.S. Standards for Grades of Carcass Beef. Therefore any changes in the standards would need to be considered in the instrument.

AMS has asked for stakeholder input in this process and NCBA has formed a working group of NCBA’s members to review the documents and provide input. Comments on revising the Standards for Grades of Carcass Beef and on the beef instrument grading review are due by November 13, 2014.