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Industry Reaction to USDA Pilot Program to Expand Remote Grading for Beef

On Friday, USDA announced their new plan for a Remote Grading Pilot Program for beef. You can read more about the plan and the announcement from USDA here:

Below is various industry reaction to the news:

NCBA Welcomes USDA Pilot Program to Expand Remote Grading for Beef 

WASHINGTON (January 19, 2024) – Today, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) welcomed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) announcement that the agency is pursuing a Remote Grading Pilot Program for beef. The pilot program will allow a USDA meat grader to assign grades from a remote location, increasing the grading options available to producers who sell into smaller, local processing facilities.

“The USDA quality grades of prime, choice, and select are instantly recognized by consumers and an important way for cattle producers to be rewarded for raising high-quality beef,” said NCBA Vice President of Government Affairs Ethan Lane. “NCBA is glad that USDA is launching this Remote Grading Pilot Program and expanding opportunities for meat grading to occur in smaller, local processing facilities. This will increase marketing opportunities for cattle producers and help them capture more value from their product.”

The USDA quality grades have become recognized by consumers as important indicators of beef quality, flavor, and eating experience. While many large meat processing plants provide this grading, the costs of maintaining a USDA grader on-site are often too high for smaller, local, and regional processing facilities. This pilot program will help ensure that smaller processors have access to USDA grading too, which in turn benefits the cattle producers who sell to these smaller processors by ensuring that their beef receives a quality grade as well.

NCBA looks forward to working with USDA to implement and evaluate this pilot program.


U.S. Cattle Producers Welcome Remote Carcass Grading Pilot Program

(WASHINGTON) – On Friday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced a pilot program to make accessing carcass quality grades – such as Prime, Choice, and Select – available and affordable for small and mid-sized processors.

Through the pilot program, processors will be able to take a picture of the ribeye loin and upload it from their phone to a secure cloud vault. A trained USDA grader, based elsewhere in the U.S., will then review the image and assign a quality grade within 24 hours. The program is specified for use by small and mid-sized operations only, limiting the number of carcasses a processor can present for grading to 100 per week.

The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) worked with USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to provide technical guidance on this pilot program. The concept was presented by the USCA Independent Beef Processing Committee in a policy resolution adopted in 2020.

USCA Independent Beef Processing Chairman Patrick Robinette said, “Before today’s announcement, it was simply unaffordable for an independent producer or processor to participate in providing quality-graded beef to the marketplace. On my operation, the cost would have averaged $410 per head to receive grading services, which I would have never recouped.”

“The pilot program would reduce that cost to $4.56 per head.” Robinette continued. “Now, the producers I serve will be able to access value-added programs that were previously unavailable to them. With the free ribeye grid device that will be provided to participating processing facilities, independent producers and processors can qualify for programs like Certified Angus Beef.

“USCA brought forward a producer pinch point in the marketplace and USDA provided a competitive and producer-driven solution, bringing a process developed in 1916 into the modern era. USCA welcomes this pilot program and looks forward to continuing its work with the Biden Administration and providing technical assistance to fully implement it across the U.S.”

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