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New Technology Means Increased Consistency and Efficiency in Grading for Beef Industry

A screenshot from the electronic grading system showing USDA Choice, Yield Grade 2 beef. The left is the natural color view of the cut; the right is the instrument enhanced view that details the amount of marbling, size, and fat thickness. Beef grading is a complex and detailed process, requiring graders to think and calculate quickly with great accuracy.  Using technology to compliment and supplement the onsite human graders generates an efficient and more precise process.

A screenshot from the electronic grading system showing USDA Choice, Yield Grade 2 beef. The left is the natural color view of the cut; the right is the instrument enhanced view that details the amount of marbling, size, and fat thickness. Beef grading is a complex and detailed process, requiring graders to think and calculate quickly with great accuracy. Using technology to compliment and supplement the onsite human graders generates an efficient and more precise process.

The USDA Choice and USDA Prime grade shields are highly regarded, both domestically and internationally, as symbols of high-quality American beef.  Cattle producers and feeders increasingly rely on USDA grades to determine payments for their cattle—a vital link to supporting and sustaining rural America.

Beef is graded at about 35 facilities nationwide, with some facilities handling over 5,800 cattle per day, for a combined total of about 26 million fed steers and heifers annually.  Historically, beef was evaluated by highly-skilled USDA meat graders using a mostly subjective characteristic assessment process.

These characteristics follow the official grade standards developed, maintained and interpreted by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.  However, years of research and development have led to recent innovations that improved the precision of USDA’s beef grading system—the use of electronic instruments to assess meat characteristics.

Implemented on September 1, 2009, the electronic instrument grade augmentation system captures images on camera, which are then analyzed by a computer program.  This has contributed to an increasingly uniform application of the official grade standards on a nationwide basis.

Grading instruments can only predict or measure some of the specific attributes necessary for a final grade.  And, although instrument grading does change some of USDA’s traditional grading activities, it is not a replacement for on-site staff and does not eliminate the need for highly-trained and skilled employees.

Just like a plane flying on “auto- pilot” requires human oversight, USDA still maintains a human presence in the facility to ensure the correct equipment and cameras are used and that they are operating as intended.  USDA meat graders also provide in-plant, day-to-day, item-by-item supervision to verify the accuracy of the electronic system and proper instrument operation.

Since the entire marketing chain relies on USDA’s beef grading program, all parties—from producers to consumers—must have a high-degree of confidence in the integrity of the system and accuracy of the applied grades.   By using new technology to enhance our grading process and continuing to leverage the expertise of our graders, the USDA grade shield is backed by rigorous expert evaluation, strict grading criteria and an even more impartial judge.

2 Responses to “New Technology Means Increased Consistency and Efficiency in Grading for Beef Industry”

  1. George Wolfer says:

    Great atical: informative, understandable to all and prfessional.
    Only one other comment: showing examples of Choice carcasses that display less external fat cover could help the average consumer, who might see this story, perceive beef as being tasty as well as relatively lean. A picture is worth a thousand words & eye-appeal is buy-appeal.

  2. I hardly leave a response, but after reading a few of the remarks on this page USDA Blog » New Technology Means Increased Consistency and Efficiency in Grading for Beef Industry. I do have a few questions for you if you do not mind. Could it be only me or do some of these responses come across like they are written by brain dead visitors? :-P And, if you are posting at other online social sites, I’d like to keep up with you. Could you list of all of all your shared pages like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

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