The cattle industry is Arizona’s highest-grossing agricultural sector at nearly $1 billion in cash receipts alone, giving us a unique interest in the proposed United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Standards for Grades of Carcass Beef.

Across Arizona and the nation, the beef industry remains firm in its commitment to producing a safe product, with the highest quality possible, and at the best price to the consumer. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) helps producers fulfill this commitment by establishing grading standards through which beef is marketed to consumers. Current methods of determining carcass maturity, however, are not always consistent or accurate.

As a result, Arizona Farm Bureau fully supports the effort to move the industry to a more accurate, science-based method of determining carcass maturity. We’ve submitted written comments to the USDA in support of the effort.

Making the Grade

Allowing dentition and age verification as methods of identifying carcass maturity would ensure more accurate grading. For example, carcasses that exhibit skeletal ossification are subject to a downgrade in quality under current methods of maturity determination. But cattle under 30 months of age can sometimes exhibit premature skeletal ossification due to a variety of factors, including reproductive status, nutrition, and estrogen exposure.

Research has shown, however, that the carcasses exhibiting premature ossification have palatability characteristics indistinguishable from carcasses without ossification, so long as they are from cattle aged less than 30 months, according to a 2014 article in the Journal of Animal Science by R.J. Acheson, D.R. Woerner and J.D. Tatum. In other words, age is a more accurate indicator of flavor and tenderness than skeletal or muscular evidence. Accordingly, age, as determined by dentition or verification, should be the relevant consideration when determining carcass maturity grades.

This more consistent, age-based approach will also ensure that producers receive the price they deserve for the quality of the product they harvest. A 2014 study indicated that, under the current methods of maturity determination, over 7% of carcasses are downgraded due to premature skeletal ossification. If analyzed through the more precise dentition or age verification methods, more cattle will be accurately placed in an “A” maturity rating, avoiding the significant discount that results from a rating of “B” or lower.

AMS has analyzed the proposed changes and determined that the industry could recover up to $55 million in unnecessary quality discounts if this proposal is adopted. Additionally, consumers also stand to benefit from an increased supply in premium beef, which will reduce wholesale beef prices in those top quality beef grade categories.

Furthermore, Arizona producers support this proposal because it allows the use of either dentition or actual age verification. Arizona is home to ranches spanning thousands of acres of rugged terrain, which makes actual age verification an impractical or impossible requirement. It is not uncommon for cattle to go unseen for weeks, since gathering only occurs in the fall and spring months when the weather and labor availability allows. By allowing the use of either dentition or age verification, and not requiring one method over the other, this proposal is flexible enough to accommodate operations of all sizes in all states. This is important to ensure that all beef producers realize the economic benefits this rule change will provide

Arizona Farm Bureau strongly encourages AMS to implement these changes as proposed. They will bring an added level of consistency and efficiency to the carcass grading process, to the benefit of both consumers and producers. 

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