Graders Can Override Camera Errors, USDA Says

USDA inspectors have the authority to override any inaccuracies they find in beef packing plants utilizing the new camera grading system. That message was delivered to industry stakeholders last week via a letter from Greg Ibach, Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs.

The new technology, called the Gigabyte Ethernet or “Gig E,” launched in February 2017, and is now in place at nine steer and heifer harvest facilities that process 50% of the U.S. fed cattle market share.

The letter from Ibach informed packers and other stakeholders that USDA graders had observed that an updated version of the camera was not operating as expected, “which caused (USDA graders) to override grades at a higher rate than normal,” he wrote. “During that period, all graders were instructed to assure that accurate grading was taking place and reminded that they had the ultimate authority over the final grade on each and every carcass.” 

Speculation has circulated throughout the industry that inaccuracies produced by the cameras had graded a significant number of carcasses higher than they should have been, but Ibach’s letter suggests otherwise.

Ibach said AMS made an adjustment to the cameras to bring it back into line with how the previous cameras were working. “After additional data review, we plan to make another minor adjustment and will reach out to our industry partners about the particulars of this adjustment, and its timing, when we have details.”

Ibach said AMS had heard the speculation that the cameras may have affected the grading system. “The simple fact is that a trained, impartial USDA grader assigns the final grade to each and every beef carcass. We ensure that these men and women have full authority to override camera grades when they believe they are not accurate.”

In the letter to stakeholders he also noted USDA publishes considerable market information, including grading summaries. “This aggregated data documents what we believe to be minor impacts over the last few months as a result of these necessary (camera) upgrades. Obviously, there may be individual circumstances were there were disparities that we would also deem unacceptable.”