Can The USDA Grading System Apply to Grass-Fed Beef?

Who is in better shape: an Olympic gymnast or an Olympic runner? This is a question with no real answer because the two are incomparable. Both types of athletes condition themselves for completely different end-goals – the gymnast will be smaller and denser with muscle while the runner will be longer and leaner. The physical fitness of these two cannot be set side by side and directly compared.

Just the same – you cannot put the finished product of grain-fed cattle next to that of grass-fed cattle and expect to judge it the same. The end goal of grain-fed is more marbling of fat for a juicier cut while grass-fed looks for a leaner meat more rich with nutritional content.

For this reason, it makes little sense to grade these two types of meat on the same scale, particularly from the USDA’s grading system that was created specifically for grain-fed cattle. The top three quality grades (prime, choice and select) are all based on the amount of marbling, color, and maturity, but the main factor that makes the difference between a prime and a choice is higher marbling content.

How can we expect the lean meat of grass-fed cattle to stand up to the same standards of a meat with a completely different end-goal? The USDA standards never even mention any testing for specific nutritional value in their grading decisions, which is the whole purpose of raising grass fed and finished beef.

Just as we cannot compare apples to oranges or gymnasts to runners, neither can we compare the quality of grass-fed beef on the same grading scale as it’s grain-fed counterpart.

For more information on the specific nutritional benefits form grass-fed beef, visit our website and browse through our previous blog posts.

REFERENCE: (2014, June 3). Inspection and Grading of Meat and Poultry: What Are the Differences? Retrieved from