The Oxymoron That Is the USDA Grading Scale

Does anyone else recognize the oxymoron in the USDA’s beef grading system? “Lean beef” means a lack of fat, but the system is based off more fat being perceived as better. Prime is best on the scale–and has the most fat. Choice has less fat, but still has quite a bit.

No wonder consumers are confused! Beef is a great protein! But do they choose the “prime” because it is supposed to be better? Or do they opt for a different protein because that prime cut has so much fat and “fat is bad.”?


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Tenderness of beef is determined by a number of factors, including age of the animal, the animal’s lifestyle (confinement limits the use of muscle), genetics, and the preparation and cooking.

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I’ve questioned the fat on beef for years now. My goal is to feed more people quality beef–with the goal of Cow Cow Ranch being to produce quality females, allowing more producers to produce more beef in a sustainable way. I would rather the animal produce more muscle–quality protein–than put lots of fat on that will be cut off anyway.


The Beef Checkoff program and the USDA grading system contradict each other. Wouldn’t a united marketing message be easier to understand and better for the beef industry? If consumers were provided with a consistent message, wouldn’t it make sense that they would be more likely to make beef the choice for their purchase?

As it is, they have to decide to go with appealing wording “Choice” and “Prime” or with “lean.” What could be done to make the message more uniform? It seems the marketing is as segmented as the industry itself!

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