United States Standards for Grades of Carcass Beef, 57877-57879 [2016-20254]

Download as PDF 57877 Notices Federal Register Vol. 81, No. 164 Wednesday, August 24, 2016 This section of the FEDERAL REGISTER contains documents other than rules or proposed rules that are applicable to the public. Notices of hearings and investigations, committee meetings, agency decisions and rulings, delegations of authority, filing of petitions and applications and agency statements of organization and functions are examples of documents appearing in this section. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE Agricultural Marketing Service [Docket No. AMS–LPS–16–0060] United States Standards for Grades of Carcass Beef Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA. ACTION: Notice, request for comments. AGENCY: The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) of the Department of Agriculture (USDA) is seeking public comments on a petition requesting revision to the United States Standards for Grades of Carcass Beef. Specifically, AMS is requesting comments concerning a petition that requests that the beef standards be amended to include dentition and documentation of actual age as an additional determination of maturity grouping for official quality grading. Currently, the standards only include skeletal and muscular evidence as a determination of maturity grouping for the purposes of official quality grading. Official quality grading is used as an indication of meat palatability and is a major determining factor in live cattle and beef value. DATES: Submit comments on or before October 24, 2016. ADDRESSES: Comments should be sent to Beef Carcass Revisions, Standardization Branch, Quality Assessment Division; Livestock Poultry and Seed Program, Agricultural Marketing Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1400 Independence Ave. SW., Room 3932–S, STOP 0258, Washington, DC 20250– 0258. Comments may also be sent by fax to (202) 690–2746 or by email to beefcarcassrevisions@ams.usda.gov. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For additional information, please contact Bucky Gwartney, International Marketing Specialist, Quality Assessment Division, at mstockstill on DSK3G9T082PROD with NOTICES SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 20:16 Aug 23, 2016 Jkt 238001 bucky.gwartney@ams.usda.gov or (202) 720–1424. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Section 203(c) of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946, as amended, directs and authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture ‘‘to develop and improve standards of quality, condition, quantity, grade, and packaging and recommend and demonstrate such standards in order to encourage uniformity and consistency in commercial practices.’’ AMS is committed to carrying out this authority in a manner that facilitates the marketing of agricultural commodities and makes copies of official standards available upon request. The United States Standards for Grades of Carcass Beef do not appear in the Code of Federal Regulations but are maintained by USDA. These standards are located on USDA’s Web site at: https://www. ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/ Carcass%20Beef%20Standard.pdf. To change the United States Standards for Grades of Carcass Beef, AMS plans to utilize the procedures it published in the August 13, 1997, Federal Register, and that appear in part 36 of title 7 of the Code of Federal Regulations (7 CFR part 36). Background The Federal beef grade standards and associated voluntary, fee-for-service beef grading service program are authorized under the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946, as amended (7 U.S.C. 1621 et seq.). The primary purpose of Federal grade standards, including the Federal beef grade standards, is to divide the population of a commodity into uniform groups (of similar quality, yield, value, etc.) to facilitate marketing. In concert, the Federal voluntary, fee-for-service grading program is designed to provide an independent, objective determination as to if a given product is in conformance with the applicable official Federal standard. In the case of beef, when it is voluntarily graded to the Federal beef grade standards under the beef grading service, the official grade consists of a quality grade and/or a yield grade. The quality grades are intended to identify differences in the palatability or eating satisfaction of cooked beef principally through the characteristics of marbling and physiological maturity groupings. As noted in the standards referenced above, the principal official PO 00000 Frm 00001 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 USDA quality grades for young (maturity groups ‘‘A’’ and ‘‘B’’) cattle and carcasses are Prime, Choice, and Select, in descending order in terms of historic market value. USDA recognizes that the beef standards must be relevant to be of greatest value to stakeholders and, therefore, recommendations for changes in the standards may be initiated by USDA or by interested parties at any time to achieve that goal. For beef, USDA quality grades provide a simple, effective means of describing product that is easily understood by both buyers and sellers. By identifying separate and distinct segments of beef, grades enable buyers to obtain that particular kind of beef that meets their individual needs. For example, certain restaurants may choose to only sell officially graded USDA Prime beef so as to provide their customers with a product that meets a very consistent level of overall palatability. At the same time, grades are important in transmitting information to cattlemen to help ensure informed decisions are made. For example, the market preference and price paid for a particular grade of beef is communicated to cattle producers so they can adjust their production accordingly. In such a case, if the price premium being paid for a grade such as USDA Prime beef merits producers making the investments required in cattle genetics and feeding to produce more USDA Prime beef, such marketing decisions can be made with justification. The current beef standards do not utilize dentition or age verification as methods to determine maturity groupings and instead rely solely on skeletal and lean (physiological) maturity. Although never intended to be a definitive method to determine the age of cattle at the time of slaughter and instead utilized to predict beef palatability, the maturity groupings have historically been roughly correlated to different age categories. Maturity grouping A was correlated with beef from cattle between 9 and 30 months of age at time of slaughter, maturity grouping B was correlated with beef from cattle between 30 and 42 months of age at time of slaughter, maturity grouping C was correlated with beef from cattle between 42 and 72 months of age at time of slaughter, maturity grouping D was correlated with E:\FR\FM\24AUN1.SGM 24AUN1 mstockstill on DSK3G9T082PROD with NOTICES 57878 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 164 / Wednesday, August 24, 2016 / Notices beef from cattle between 72 and 96 months of age at time of slaughter, and maturity grouping E was correlated with beef from cattle more than 96 months of age at time of slaughter. However, these are rough approximations that are influenced by other factors including diet, growth promotion administration, calving, breed, and a variety of environmental factors. Therefore, cattle that are younger than 30 months of age (MOA) may have a physiological maturity of B or greater beef quality grade maturity grouping due to other factors listed above. The current use of dentition to determine animal age at time of slaughter is done on all slaughtered cattle in order to determine whether their age is less than or greater than 30 MOA due to food safety requirements. Cattle older than 30 MOA must have specific risk materials (e.g., vertebral column) removed from their carcasses before the sale of the resulting beef cuts. Age verification involves providing the paper paperwork or other proof of an animals’ actual age (i.e., less than 30 MOA) and is also used for a variety of purposes including meeting foreign market requirements for U.S. beef from cattle under a certain age. The official standards have had past revisions made to the maturity grouping requirements, and these revisions resulted in classifications that were designed to reduce the variability of eating quality within the grades. The most recent such change occurred in 1997 when certain carcasses from the B maturity grouping were no longer eligible for the USDA Choice or Select quality grades. However, the official standards have never relied upon any other indicator besides physiological maturity to determine maturity grouping or the resulting USDA quality grade. This was primarily because the use of physiological maturity wasn’t intended to be used to predict the age of an animal at time of slaughter but, instead, the resulting palatability of the meat. Many years of research have demonstrated a strong correlation between physiological maturity and beef palatability. However, current research has indicated that carcasses from grain-fed steers and heifers that are deemed less than 30 MOA, based on dentition, are similar in palatability to A maturity carcasses determined via physiological maturity and thus could be classified ‘‘A’’ maturity for grading purposes even though the physiological maturity characteristics of ‘‘B’’ or older maturity groupings may be present. Utilizing the recommendations of dentition and age verification would allow for an alternate VerDate Sep<11>2014 20:16 Aug 23, 2016 Jkt 238001 method of classifying beef carcasses into maturity groupings and thus allow additional carcasses to qualify for the higher USDA grades of Prime, Choice and Select without a significant reduction in the consistency of those grades in predicting palatability. AMS was provided a large data set from a recent study of beef packing plant slaughter and has performed a statistical and economic analysis on this data in order to determine the possible impact should the proposed change to the Standards be adopted. That report can be found here: https://www.ams. usda.gov/grades-standards/beef-requestfor-comments. The study period ranged from the beginning of May 2014 through the end of April 2015, and the results are summarized below. Extrapolating the study data across the total population of cattle graded each year by AMS—approximately 21 million—results in the following: • Seventy-two percent were slaughtered in facilities participating in the study, • Ninety-seven percent were found to be less than 30 MOA using dentition, • Less than 3 percent (2.8) were found to be equal to or greater than 30 MOA, • Less than 2 percent (1.68) were deemed to be age-discounted when using skeletal ossification as the measure of maturity grouping, and • Less than one-half of 1 percent of the total cattle graded were age-verified. According to the study, had there been an allowance to use dentition as a means to override physiological characteristics of advanced maturity grouping, as is proposed, an additional 1.3 percent of those cattle would have been eligible for grading. Of these cattle, 4.5 percent would have been graded Prime, 63.6 percent Choice, and 31.9 percent Select. Within the Choice category, 24.4 percent of all newly graded carcasses, would have been placed in the top two-thirds Choice category (branded Choice programs), and 39.2 percent of all added carcasses would have been placed in the bottom of the Choice category. Currently, many private companies or organizations have established carcass schedules whereby AMS graders evaluate individual carcasses for conformance with those established requirements—things such as breed or breed influence, age, ribeye size, carcass weight. Most of those carcass programs (e.g., Certified Angus BeefTM) currently have requirements for only allowing ‘‘A Maturity’’ carcasses. The grade composition of the carcasses being added by using dentition as a measure of age was not much different than the grade PO 00000 Frm 00002 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 composition of carcasses graded using physiological maturity, and overall, these data show an increase of 1.05 percent for Prime beef, 0.91 percent for Choice 1 and 1.29 percent for Select. According to calculations made from wholesale beef elasticity, wholesale beef prices could decline between 1 to 1.5 percent for each of the grade categories as a result of the increased supply of graded beef. According to projections provided by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), producers would yield approximately $59 million in added revenue from removal of discounts for cattle identified as greater than A maturity grouping that dentition would allow to be classified as such. AMS found a net gain to producers of nearly $55 million, primarily due to reduced hard bone discounts for quality grade maturity grouping done by the current physiological maturity approach alone. A petition has been submitted by NCBA, the National Association State Departments of Agriculture, the U.S. Meat Export Federation, and the American Farm Bureau Federation and can be found here: https://www.ams. usda.gov/grades-standards/beef-requestfor-comments. The petitioners cite several research papers, as listed in the reference section at the above link, to support their request. Two of the summary papers that outline the relevant studies can be found here: https://www.ams.usda.gov/ grades-standards/beef-request-forcomments. In summary, the studies showed that the use of dentition to determine maturity groupings did not have a significant negative affect on the ability of the official USDA quality grades to group beef into similar palatability categories while at the same time would allow for additional carcasses to qualify for the higher USDA quality grades of Prime, Choice and Select. This would allow for consumers to have access to additional USDA Prime, Choice and Select beef as well as for producers to be paid price premiums for cattle whose carcasses grade USDA Prime, Choice or Select. In addition, a recent analysis located at: https://www.ams.usda.gov/gradesstandards/beef-request-for-comments, which was done by the American Meat Science Association’s Committee on Grading, found that while age at the time of slaughter does influence meat palatability, this becomes less 1 While the volume of Choice carcasses added is large, the existing production of Choice beef is significantly large enough to result is a smaller proportion of Choice added than for Prime and Select. E:\FR\FM\24AUN1.SGM 24AUN1 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 164 / Wednesday, August 24, 2016 / Notices influential within the young U.S. grainfed cattle population, as the vast majority of cattle presented for grading in U.S. beef processing facilities are less than 30 MOA and USDA ‘‘A’’ or ‘‘B’’ maturity. It is important to note that the population of fed beef cattle in the U.S. has changed significantly over the last several decades. Today, there is greater consistency within the cattle herd, improved genetics, a relatively young slaughter population, more widespread use of growth promoting technologies that are known to effect bone ossification, and much higher carcass weights at slaughter which may also have skeletal implications. These market and production changes, along with recent research, could indicate that physiological maturity is less influential on palatability than in the past. Request for Comments AMS is soliciting comments from stakeholders about whether changes in the methodology for determining maturity grouping assessment for the purposes of official USDA quality grading should be made. This change would have no effect on the role that maturity groupings have upon USDA quality grade determination, simply how carcasses are placed into those maturity groupings. AMS also invites comments about how those changes would be implemented in the current beef grading system. If, after analyzing the comments, AMS determines that changes are warranted, a notice will be published in the Federal Register proposing specific changes to the United States Standards for Carcass Beef. Interested parties will have an opportunity to comment prior to a final decision adopting any changes. Dated: August 19, 2016. Elanor Starmer, Administrator, Agricultural Marketing Service. [FR Doc. 2016–20254 Filed 8–23–16; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3410–02–P DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE Food Safety and Inspection Service mstockstill on DSK3G9T082PROD with NOTICES [Docket No. FSIS–2016–0027] Statements That Bioengineered or Genetically Modified (GM) Ingredients or Animal Feed Were Not Used in the Production of Meat, Poultry, or Egg Products Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA. ACTION: Notice of availability and opportunity for comment. AGENCY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 20:16 Aug 23, 2016 Jkt 238001 The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is announcing the availability of the Agency’s compliance guidance on how companies can make label or labeling claims concerning the fact that bioengineered or genetically modified (GM) ingredients or animal feed were not used in the production of meat, poultry, or egg products. For purposes of this guidance document, these claims will be referred to as ‘‘negative claims.’’ DATES: Comments must be received by October 24, 2016. ADDRESSES: A downloadable version of the compliance guidance is available to view and print at http://www.fsis.usda. gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/regulatorycompliance/labeling/claims-guidance/ procedures-nongenetically-engineeredstatement. No hard copies of the compliance guidance have been published. FSIS invites interested persons to submit comments on this notice. Comments may be submitted by one of the following methods: Federal eRulemaking Portal: This Web site provides the ability to type short comments directly into the comment field on this Web page or attach a file for lengthier comments. Go to http://www.regulations.gov/. Follow the on-line instructions at that site for submitting comments. Mail, including CD–ROMs: Send to Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Patriots Plaza 3, 1400 Independence Avenue SW., Mailstop 3782, Room 8–163B, Washington, DC 20250–3700. Hand- or courier-delivered submittals: Deliver to Patriots Plaza 3, 355 E Street SW., Room 8–163A, Washington, DC 20250–3700. Instructions: All items submitted by mail or electronic mail must include the Agency name, docket number FSIS– 2016–0027, and the document title: Statements that Bioengineered or Genetically Modified (GM) Ingredients or Animal Feed Were not Used in the Production of Meat, Poultry, or Egg Products. Comments received in response to this docket will be made available for public inspection and posted without change, including any personal information, to http:// www.regulations.gov. For additional information about FSIS labeling policies and programs, including Generic Label Approval, please review the FSIS Web site at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/ fsis/topics/regulatory-compliance/ labeling/ or contact the Labeling and Program Delivery Staff at (301) 504– 0878 or (301) 504–0879. SUMMARY: PO 00000 Frm 00003 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 57879 Docket: For access to background documents or to comments received, go to the FSIS Docket Room at Patriots Plaza 3, 355 E Street SW., Room 164–A, Washington, DC 20250–3700 between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Dr. Daniel L. Engeljohn, Assistant Administrator, Office of Policy and Program Development; Telephone: (202) 205–0495. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Background FSIS is the public health regulatory agency in the USDA that is responsible for ensuring that the nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe, wholesome, and accurately labeled and packaged. FSIS develops and implements regulations and policies to ensure that meat, poultry, and egg product labeling is not false or misleading. Under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) (21 U.S.C. 601–695, at 607), the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) (21 U.S.C. 451–470, at 457), and the Egg Products Inspection Act (21 U.S.C. 1031–1056, at 1036) the labels of meat, poultry, and egg products must be approved by the Secretary of Agriculture, who has delegated this authority to FSIS, before these products can enter commerce. Compliance Guide FSIS is announcing that it has developed a compliance guide for companies that seek to make label or labeling claims concerning the fact that bioengineered or GM ingredients were not used in a meat, poultry or egg product. This guidance also provides information on how companies can make label or labeling claims that a product was produced from livestock or poultry that were not fed bioengineered or GM feed. For purposes of this guidance document, these claims will be referred to as ‘‘negative claims.’’ FSIS has approved negative claims through its prior label approval process. Because FSIS does not have the ability to independently verify negative claims for ingredients or feed, FSIS has required establishments that make these claims to comply with standards established by a third-party certifying organization. FSIS currently requires that the third-party certifying organization’s standards be publicly available on a Web site and the label or labeling disclose the Web site address of the third-party certifying organization. FSIS currently requires that the establishment demonstrate that its E:\FR\FM\24AUN1.SGM 24AUN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 81, Number 164 (Wednesday, August 24, 2016)]
[Notices]
[Pages 57877-57879]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2016-20254]


========================================================================
Notices
                                                Federal Register
________________________________________________________________________

This section of the FEDERAL REGISTER contains documents other than rules 
or proposed rules that are applicable to the public. Notices of hearings 
and investigations, committee meetings, agency decisions and rulings, 
delegations of authority, filing of petitions and applications and agency 
statements of organization and functions are examples of documents 
appearing in this section.

========================================================================


Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 164 / Wednesday, August 24, 2016 / 
Notices

[[Page 57877]]



DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Agricultural Marketing Service

[Docket No. AMS-LPS-16-0060]


United States Standards for Grades of Carcass Beef

AGENCY: Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA.

ACTION: Notice, request for comments.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

SUMMARY: The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) of the Department of 
Agriculture (USDA) is seeking public comments on a petition requesting 
revision to the United States Standards for Grades of Carcass Beef. 
Specifically, AMS is requesting comments concerning a petition that 
requests that the beef standards be amended to include dentition and 
documentation of actual age as an additional determination of maturity 
grouping for official quality grading. Currently, the standards only 
include skeletal and muscular evidence as a determination of maturity 
grouping for the purposes of official quality grading. Official quality 
grading is used as an indication of meat palatability and is a major 
determining factor in live cattle and beef value.

DATES: Submit comments on or before October 24, 2016.

ADDRESSES: Comments should be sent to Beef Carcass Revisions, 
Standardization Branch, Quality Assessment Division; Livestock Poultry 
and Seed Program, Agricultural Marketing Service, U.S. Department of 
Agriculture, 1400 Independence Ave. SW., Room 3932-S, STOP 0258, 
Washington, DC 20250-0258. Comments may also be sent by fax to (202) 
690-2746 or by email to beefcarcassrevisions@ams.usda.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For additional information, please 
contact Bucky Gwartney, International Marketing Specialist, Quality 
Assessment Division, at bucky.gwartney@ams.usda.gov or (202) 720-1424.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Section 203(c) of the Agricultural Marketing 
Act of 1946, as amended, directs and authorizes the Secretary of 
Agriculture ``to develop and improve standards of quality, condition, 
quantity, grade, and packaging and recommend and demonstrate such 
standards in order to encourage uniformity and consistency in 
commercial practices.'' AMS is committed to carrying out this authority 
in a manner that facilitates the marketing of agricultural commodities 
and makes copies of official standards available upon request. The 
United States Standards for Grades of Carcass Beef do not appear in the 
Code of Federal Regulations but are maintained by USDA. These standards 
are located on USDA's Web site at: https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Carcass%20Beef%20Standard.pdf. To change the United 
States Standards for Grades of Carcass Beef, AMS plans to utilize the 
procedures it published in the August 13, 1997, Federal Register, and 
that appear in part 36 of title 7 of the Code of Federal Regulations (7 
CFR part 36).

Background

    The Federal beef grade standards and associated voluntary, fee-for-
service beef grading service program are authorized under the 
Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946, as amended (7 U.S.C. 1621 et seq.). 
The primary purpose of Federal grade standards, including the Federal 
beef grade standards, is to divide the population of a commodity into 
uniform groups (of similar quality, yield, value, etc.) to facilitate 
marketing. In concert, the Federal voluntary, fee-for-service grading 
program is designed to provide an independent, objective determination 
as to if a given product is in conformance with the applicable official 
Federal standard. In the case of beef, when it is voluntarily graded to 
the Federal beef grade standards under the beef grading service, the 
official grade consists of a quality grade and/or a yield grade.
    The quality grades are intended to identify differences in the 
palatability or eating satisfaction of cooked beef principally through 
the characteristics of marbling and physiological maturity groupings. 
As noted in the standards referenced above, the principal official USDA 
quality grades for young (maturity groups ``A'' and ``B'') cattle and 
carcasses are Prime, Choice, and Select, in descending order in terms 
of historic market value. USDA recognizes that the beef standards must 
be relevant to be of greatest value to stakeholders and, therefore, 
recommendations for changes in the standards may be initiated by USDA 
or by interested parties at any time to achieve that goal.
    For beef, USDA quality grades provide a simple, effective means of 
describing product that is easily understood by both buyers and 
sellers. By identifying separate and distinct segments of beef, grades 
enable buyers to obtain that particular kind of beef that meets their 
individual needs. For example, certain restaurants may choose to only 
sell officially graded USDA Prime beef so as to provide their customers 
with a product that meets a very consistent level of overall 
palatability. At the same time, grades are important in transmitting 
information to cattlemen to help ensure informed decisions are made. 
For example, the market preference and price paid for a particular 
grade of beef is communicated to cattle producers so they can adjust 
their production accordingly. In such a case, if the price premium 
being paid for a grade such as USDA Prime beef merits producers making 
the investments required in cattle genetics and feeding to produce more 
USDA Prime beef, such marketing decisions can be made with 
justification.
    The current beef standards do not utilize dentition or age 
verification as methods to determine maturity groupings and instead 
rely solely on skeletal and lean (physiological) maturity. Although 
never intended to be a definitive method to determine the age of cattle 
at the time of slaughter and instead utilized to predict beef 
palatability, the maturity groupings have historically been roughly 
correlated to different age categories. Maturity grouping A was 
correlated with beef from cattle between 9 and 30 months of age at time 
of slaughter, maturity grouping B was correlated with beef from cattle 
between 30 and 42 months of age at time of slaughter, maturity grouping 
C was correlated with beef from cattle between 42 and 72 months of age 
at time of slaughter, maturity grouping D was correlated with

[[Page 57878]]

beef from cattle between 72 and 96 months of age at time of slaughter, 
and maturity grouping E was correlated with beef from cattle more than 
96 months of age at time of slaughter. However, these are rough 
approximations that are influenced by other factors including diet, 
growth promotion administration, calving, breed, and a variety of 
environmental factors. Therefore, cattle that are younger than 30 
months of age (MOA) may have a physiological maturity of B or greater 
beef quality grade maturity grouping due to other factors listed above.
    The current use of dentition to determine animal age at time of 
slaughter is done on all slaughtered cattle in order to determine 
whether their age is less than or greater than 30 MOA due to food 
safety requirements. Cattle older than 30 MOA must have specific risk 
materials (e.g., vertebral column) removed from their carcasses before 
the sale of the resulting beef cuts. Age verification involves 
providing the paper paperwork or other proof of an animals' actual age 
(i.e., less than 30 MOA) and is also used for a variety of purposes 
including meeting foreign market requirements for U.S. beef from cattle 
under a certain age.
    The official standards have had past revisions made to the maturity 
grouping requirements, and these revisions resulted in classifications 
that were designed to reduce the variability of eating quality within 
the grades. The most recent such change occurred in 1997 when certain 
carcasses from the B maturity grouping were no longer eligible for the 
USDA Choice or Select quality grades. However, the official standards 
have never relied upon any other indicator besides physiological 
maturity to determine maturity grouping or the resulting USDA quality 
grade. This was primarily because the use of physiological maturity 
wasn't intended to be used to predict the age of an animal at time of 
slaughter but, instead, the resulting palatability of the meat. Many 
years of research have demonstrated a strong correlation between 
physiological maturity and beef palatability.
    However, current research has indicated that carcasses from grain-
fed steers and heifers that are deemed less than 30 MOA, based on 
dentition, are similar in palatability to A maturity carcasses 
determined via physiological maturity and thus could be classified 
``A'' maturity for grading purposes even though the physiological 
maturity characteristics of ``B'' or older maturity groupings may be 
present. Utilizing the recommendations of dentition and age 
verification would allow for an alternate method of classifying beef 
carcasses into maturity groupings and thus allow additional carcasses 
to qualify for the higher USDA grades of Prime, Choice and Select 
without a significant reduction in the consistency of those grades in 
predicting palatability.
    AMS was provided a large data set from a recent study of beef 
packing plant slaughter and has performed a statistical and economic 
analysis on this data in order to determine the possible impact should 
the proposed change to the Standards be adopted. That report can be 
found here: https://www.ams.usda.gov/grades-standards/beef-request-for-comments. The study period ranged from the beginning of May 2014 
through the end of April 2015, and the results are summarized below.
    Extrapolating the study data across the total population of cattle 
graded each year by AMS--approximately 21 million--results in the 
following:
     Seventy-two percent were slaughtered in facilities 
participating in the study,
     Ninety-seven percent were found to be less than 30 MOA 
using dentition,
     Less than 3 percent (2.8) were found to be equal to or 
greater than 30 MOA,
     Less than 2 percent (1.68) were deemed to be age-
discounted when using skeletal ossification as the measure of maturity 
grouping, and
     Less than one-half of 1 percent of the total cattle graded 
were age-verified.
    According to the study, had there been an allowance to use 
dentition as a means to override physiological characteristics of 
advanced maturity grouping, as is proposed, an additional 1.3 percent 
of those cattle would have been eligible for grading. Of these cattle, 
4.5 percent would have been graded Prime, 63.6 percent Choice, and 31.9 
percent Select. Within the Choice category, 24.4 percent of all newly 
graded carcasses, would have been placed in the top two-thirds Choice 
category (branded Choice programs), and 39.2 percent of all added 
carcasses would have been placed in the bottom of the Choice category. 
Currently, many private companies or organizations have established 
carcass schedules whereby AMS graders evaluate individual carcasses for 
conformance with those established requirements--things such as breed 
or breed influence, age, ribeye size, carcass weight. Most of those 
carcass programs (e.g., Certified Angus BeefTM) currently 
have requirements for only allowing ``A Maturity'' carcasses.
    The grade composition of the carcasses being added by using 
dentition as a measure of age was not much different than the grade 
composition of carcasses graded using physiological maturity, and 
overall, these data show an increase of 1.05 percent for Prime beef, 
0.91 percent for Choice \1\ and 1.29 percent for Select. According to 
calculations made from wholesale beef elasticity, wholesale beef prices 
could decline between 1 to 1.5 percent for each of the grade categories 
as a result of the increased supply of graded beef.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \1\ While the volume of Choice carcasses added is large, the 
existing production of Choice beef is significantly large enough to 
result is a smaller proportion of Choice added than for Prime and 
Select.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    According to projections provided by the National Cattlemen's Beef 
Association (NCBA), producers would yield approximately $59 million in 
added revenue from removal of discounts for cattle identified as 
greater than A maturity grouping that dentition would allow to be 
classified as such. AMS found a net gain to producers of nearly $55 
million, primarily due to reduced hard bone discounts for quality grade 
maturity grouping done by the current physiological maturity approach 
alone.
    A petition has been submitted by NCBA, the National Association 
State Departments of Agriculture, the U.S. Meat Export Federation, and 
the American Farm Bureau Federation and can be found here: https://www.ams.usda.gov/grades-standards/beef-request-for-comments.
    The petitioners cite several research papers, as listed in the 
reference section at the above link, to support their request. Two of 
the summary papers that outline the relevant studies can be found here: 
https://www.ams.usda.gov/grades-standards/beef-request-for-comments. In 
summary, the studies showed that the use of dentition to determine 
maturity groupings did not have a significant negative affect on the 
ability of the official USDA quality grades to group beef into similar 
palatability categories while at the same time would allow for 
additional carcasses to qualify for the higher USDA quality grades of 
Prime, Choice and Select. This would allow for consumers to have access 
to additional USDA Prime, Choice and Select beef as well as for 
producers to be paid price premiums for cattle whose carcasses grade 
USDA Prime, Choice or Select.
    In addition, a recent analysis located at: https://www.ams.usda.gov/grades-standards/beef-request-for-comments, which was 
done by the American Meat Science Association's Committee on Grading, 
found that while age at the time of slaughter does influence meat 
palatability, this becomes less

[[Page 57879]]

influential within the young U.S. grain-fed cattle population, as the 
vast majority of cattle presented for grading in U.S. beef processing 
facilities are less than 30 MOA and USDA ``A'' or ``B'' maturity. It is 
important to note that the population of fed beef cattle in the U.S. 
has changed significantly over the last several decades. Today, there 
is greater consistency within the cattle herd, improved genetics, a 
relatively young slaughter population, more widespread use of growth 
promoting technologies that are known to effect bone ossification, and 
much higher carcass weights at slaughter which may also have skeletal 
implications. These market and production changes, along with recent 
research, could indicate that physiological maturity is less 
influential on palatability than in the past.

Request for Comments

    AMS is soliciting comments from stakeholders about whether changes 
in the methodology for determining maturity grouping assessment for the 
purposes of official USDA quality grading should be made. This change 
would have no effect on the role that maturity groupings have upon USDA 
quality grade determination, simply how carcasses are placed into those 
maturity groupings. AMS also invites comments about how those changes 
would be implemented in the current beef grading system. If, after 
analyzing the comments, AMS determines that changes are warranted, a 
notice will be published in the Federal Register proposing specific 
changes to the United States Standards for Carcass Beef. Interested 
parties will have an opportunity to comment prior to a final decision 
adopting any changes.

    Dated: August 19, 2016.
Elanor Starmer,
Administrator, Agricultural Marketing Service.
[FR Doc. 2016-20254 Filed 8-23-16; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3410-02-P