Industry At A Glance: The Importance Of USDA Quality Grade

Will the use of camera technology in the quality grading of beef play a bigger role in producers' genetic and management decisions?

Nevil Speer

May 9, 2013

2 Min Read
Industry At A Glance:  The Importance Of USDA Quality Grade

Last week’s “Industry At A Glance” chart focused on USDA Quality Grade trends over time. That’s inherently an important metric with respect to overall consumer satisfaction.  

One of the major criticisms of the current system is the relative inconsistency among the various grades – the variability resulting from human error by USDA graders. However, new camera technology removes subjectivity, and minimizes the potential for variability across USDA Quality Grades.

To validate that perspective, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association recently commissioned a checkoff-funded study to investigate the relationships between consumer perception and marbling scores as determined by a camera-based system. The research was led by Daryl Tatum, Colorado State University professor of animal science. The graph below details the relationship between camera-based marbling scores and relative consumer perception.

quality grade score beef industry

Tatum explains that, “Results of this recent study suggest that camera-based marbling scores very effectively categorize A-maturity beef carcasses according to differences in strip loin tenderness, flavor and juiciness, and provide strong support for USDA’s recent implementation of camera-assisted quality grading. The transition to camera-assisted quality grading modernizes the 85-year-old beef grading system and improves the consistency and accuracy of quality grade determination.”

The implication is that improved quality grade scores really do matter when it comes to general consumer perception of the beef industry by consumers. Moreover, the current marketing system appears to be fairly effective in segregating that value – as long as the segregation occurs in an objective manner.

How do you perceive the importance of this technology and USDA Quality Grade influencing the business in the future? Will it play a bigger role in genetic and management decisions? Will consumers become even more aware of these potential differentiations going forward? Leave your thoughts below.


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About the Author(s)

Nevil Speer

Nevil Speer serves as an industry consultant and is based in Bowling Green, KY.

Nevil Speer has extensive experience and involvement with the livestock and food industry including various service and consultation projects spanning such issues as market competition, business and economic implications of agroterrorism, animal identification, assessment of price risk and market volatility on the producer segment, and usage of antibiotics in animal agriculture.
Dr. Speer writes about many aspects regarding agriculture and the food industry with regular contribution to BEEF and Feedstuffs.  He’s also written several influential industry white papers dealing with issues such as changing business dynamics in the beef complex, producer decision-making, and country-of-origin labeling.
He serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the National Institute for Animal Agriculture.
Dr. Speer holds both a PhD in Animal Science and a Master’s degree in Business Administration.

Contact him at [email protected].

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