Beef's Quality Chain: Grading Changes Help Packers Identify Quality

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Note: This is the first part in a three part series on Beef's Quality Chain from the September 2018 magazine issue of Drovers.

Beef quality starts with the cow-calf producer and moves in a cycle that includes many facets such as stockers, backgrounders and feedlots. Those stages are important, but there are a number of steps in the food chain where quality can be affected. Packers, grocers and restaurants all have a role to play in beef quality and how a consumer will enjoy their beef eating experience.

Grading Changes Help Packers Identify Quality 

As the second-largest beef processor in North America, Cargill has a focus on quality with 75% of beef grading Choice and 4% grading Prime. The company also has its eye on the general consumer ranking as the largest supplier of ground beef in the world, producing more than 1.6 billion pounds of ground beef per year.

“We really do sell everything but the moo,” says Bill Carlson, key beef account specialist at Cargill. Maybe not so literally, but Cargill does market every part of the animal excluding the switch of the tail.

Beef packers like Cargill have seen a few changes in grading standards during the past year that have resulted in more cattle being properly identified for quality.

The first major alteration was USDA’s update in the definition of maturity for cattle categorized by teeth dentition instead of skeletal maturity that occurred Dec. 18, 2017.

Carlson says the update helped correctly identify young cattle that were previously recognized as being 30 months or older, and were missing out on premium markets. The problem was particularly expressed in heifers due to more bone ossification from estrogen.

“We were losing a significant amount of cattle that were going into ‘No Roll’ that had great yield grade, quality grade, tenderness, every attribute you wanted. Chronologically they were under 30 months of age,” Carlson adds.

Another recent change in grading that has helped with beef quality was the adjustment made to camera grading that occurred late last fall. Carlson says the changes made by USDA took some time to eventually be corrected, but it has made the process more precise.

“Bottom line: It was good for the entire industry. It gives that consistency to the consumer, which is what we want,” Carlson says.


The next part of the Beef’s Quality Chain will run on Oct. 2 focusing on grocers. 


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