Understanding branded beef

Dec. 16, 2017 at 7:12 p.m.
Updated Dec. 17, 2017 at 1 a.m.

 Matt Bochat

Matt Bochat   FRANK TILLEY for The Victoria Advocate

Matt Bochat

Who doesn't like eating beef? There are a few who don't, but the majority of Americans love to grill and cook with beef products.

However, do you understand all of the branded beef programs that you see about and read?

Below is a sampling of how many types of branded beef are available and quality requirements for some. The information was developed by Stephen Hammack, Extension Beef Specialist.

The USDA-Agricultural Marketing Service has a provision to officially certify beef programs, commonly called branded beef products. The first and most commonly recognized of these is Certified Angus Beef, which was implemented in 1978.

Currently there are 86 such programs. Of those, 53 have a single requirement for carcass grade/marbling. The remaining 33 have multiple carcass grade/marbling specifications with unique brand names for each.

Of those with a single specification, 60 percent are for Angus, validated by registration papers to verifiable Angus parentage or, more commonly, by visual means (body solid black except in front of shoulder or below flank; horned or polled). Twelve percent are limited to other specific breeds, and 28 percent are open to all. Seventy percent require carcass maturity of A (from animals younger than about 30 months of age), 21 percent allow maturity of A or B (about 30 to 42 months of age) and 9 percent have no maturity requirement.

Forty-three percent have ribeye area and carcass weight requirements, almost all being 10.0-16.0 square inches and less than 1,050 pounds.

All but one program disqualify dark-cutting lean; all but three programs, which are for export to Europe, disqualify hump heights over 2 inches.

One program also uses certified non-hormone-treated cattle, plus no animal byproducts in feed, antibiotics or growth promotants (Never-Ever-3).

We often think of branded beef as being only for higher quality, typically higher than low-choice.

Of these single specification programs, 49 percent require mid-choice or higher, 8 percent high-choice or higher and 4 percent require prime. However, 9 percent allow low-choice or higher, and 26 percent allow select or higher; one program allows standard or higher, and one has no grade/marbling requirement.

Of the 33 programs with more than one marbling/grade, 70 percent are for Angus, 9 percent for other specific breeds and 21 percent have no breed requirement. Contrary to single grade programs, only 15 percent of these multi-grade programs accept only A maturity; 76 percent allow A or B maturity, and 9 percent have no maturity limits. Five programs also include NHTC.

Also, only one of these programs has restrictions for ribeye area or carcass weight 21 percent have no dark-cutting disqualification, but only one program has no hump restriction.

Fifty-five percent have separate product brands for prime, choice, or select; 15 percent have separate brands for prime, upper 2/3-choice, lower 1/3-choice, or select and 12 percent have separate brands for choice or select.

Considering the separate products marketed by programs with more than one marbling/grade requirement, there are 149 brand names. The number of USDA Certified Beef Programs (branded beef) continues to increase, and 49 percent of the brands are less than five years old. We can probably expect more branded beef. However, it will likely be difficult for any brand, existing or new, to overcome the dominance of Certified Angus Beef.

Source: Stephen Hammack, professor and Extension Beef Specialist Emeritus, Texas A&M Extension (https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/LSCertifiedBeefProgramsCo

Matt Bochat is a County Extension Agent - Ag/Natural Resources Victoria County Texas A&M Agrilife Extension.


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