New Year’s Resolution: Get Better Grades

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

Youthful carcasses from feedlot-finished cattle are graded for yield (amount of meat in the carcass) and quality (marbling score). Federal grading began during World War II to ensure quality standards during wartime price controls. Canada’s last major beef grading change occurred in the early 1990s, when Canada added quality grades to the grading system.

Canadian and US beef quality grades are quite similar (i.e. A vs. USDA Standard, AA vs. USDA Select, AAA vs. USDA Choice and Canada Prime vs. USDA Prime), but Canadian and US yield grades currently predict different things. Canada’s three yield grades predict “lean meat yield” (the percentage of red meat in the entire carcass). This essentially estimates the edible part of the carcass, at least for those consumers who trim the external and seam fat from their steaks and roasts and drain their ground beef. In contrast, the US has five yield grades (YG1 to YG5) that predict the “retail yield” of the four largest primal cuts (chuck, rib, loin and round) that make up 81% of the beef carcass. Unlike Canada’s lean meat yield, US retail yields account for the fact that beef sold in retail stores still carries some fat trim, as well as regular, medium and lean ground beef. The differences between Canada’s lean yield and US retail yield grades has caused some confusion and frustration in cross-border trade.

On January 15, Canada will change from three “lean meat yield” grades to five “retail yield” grades. Because both the definition of yield and the number of yield grades are changing, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Lacombe Research & Development Centre worked with commercial packers in Canada to assess how the distribution of Canada’s yield grades may change when the new system is adopted. Continue reading