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Meat Grading – US vs AUS

When the producer sells a beast or carcass, generally he is paid a price based on dentition, sometimes ossification.

Dentition (numbers of teeth) has always been the way of judging the age of a beast. It is still used when the producer sells the beast in the saleyards.

However, since the advent of MSA, some carcasses are now graded by ossification.  Ossification is using the bone density to tell the age of the animal, and it also supposedly indicates the eating quality of the meat.

Because MSA now takes precedence over the old AusMeat language, the ossification classification takes precedence over dentition.

Under both systems the consumer has little or no idea of the quality or suitability of the meat for the purpose that the consumer is buying it.   The fact is, you can be buying a piece of steak from a prime beast or a very old beast, because there are now so many grades of ossification (boning categories) that most meat can make it through to be graded.  And on most occasions the consumer is not told.

Perhaps it would be much fairer if a grading system followed a beast from abattoir front door through to the retailer.  If it was discounted as a carcass, then that meat of that beast should also be discounted at the retail or food service level. 

Restaurant retailers and wholesalers are notorious for buying cheaper, more unreliable meat and then on selling it at a premium price.

AusMeat is a joint venture between MLA and the processors, part of their brief is establishing grading language, and some people might say ‘run by the processors for the benefit of the processors’.  MSA, which is the name of this grading program, is run by MLA and all audits of MSA shops and abattoirs are carried out by AusMeats.  Clear as mud??

When sold in the shops now, meat may merely have the label MSA on it, no stars or grades or ‘language’.  The Australia ‘language’ is supposed to relate to the following definitions of grading:

Y       is no permanent teeth up to 18-month-old.

YG    is 2 permanent teeth after 30 months of age.,

YP     is 4 permanent teeth up to 36 months of age.

PR:    is 7 permanent teeth up to 42 months of age.

A:      is 8 permanent teeth and 48 months any age.

Please note that the ‘A’ letter, which usually indicates first class or top grade in the real world, is used on the oldest category of meat.  Is this intentionally meant to be misleading? 

A quote from the AusMeat website:

When purchasing products promoted as “A – GRADE QUALITY MEAT” or

“EXPORT QUALITY MEAT”, the following information should be taken into account.


The term “A – GRADE QUALITY MEAT” is usually associated with the AUS-MEAT category cipher “A” (frozen meat) which indicated that the product is usually sourced from older animals up to and including 8 tooth cows.


The term ‘EXPORT – QUALITY MEAT” can mean any meat items processed to an export standard at an export establishment can lay claim to this statement, no matter what the age of the animal.  The statement does not represent any criteria representing the actual eating quality of the product.


Further information on the AUS-MEAT language is available on the Industry Standards section.


After reading instructions like that, then you see ads like this……….


MSA relies on ossification instead of dentition as part of the formula to identify meat tenderness.  However, as stated in our earlier TicTacs, MSA has now been watered down to such an extent that it gives very little guidance as to tenderness and quality.

One producer, who has an interest in both processing and retailing, told me that the beef language is deliberately set up to mislead consumers.  This is of immense value to processors, retailers and wholesalers, whilst consumers and producers suffer the consequences of this misleading language.

The USA grading system is very interesting.  The grades are: USDA prime;   USDA choice; USDA select; and USDA standard. 

These grades are used across America itself, and across all beef sold internationally.  USA beef quality is known to be consistent and correct, which is why USA have larger sales than us internationally, and why they moved back quickly into those markets after the BSE scare.


USA quality grading refers to the expected eating characteristics: those of tenderness, juiciness and flavour, and are used to reflect differences in expected eating quality amongst slaughter cattle in their carcass form!!   Not based on, as in Australia, how you can use the changed boning categories to your (processors) best advantage.

In the US, it is acknowledged that maturity of the beef animal has a direct effect on the tenderness of that beef. 

One would expect that this should be a world-wide standard, especially from a developed country like Australia, where we need our overseas markets to take the majority of the beef slaughtered in Australia.      

As cattle get older (mature), their meat becomes progressively tougher. To account for the effects of aging on beef tenderness, the evaluation of carcass maturity is integral to the formula for grading.    To determine USDA quality of grades, there are five maturity groupings designed from A through to E.   Approximate ages corresponding to each maturity classification are:

A         9 to 30 months of age.

B         30 to 42 months.

C         42 to 72 months.   More often minced

D         72 to 96 months    Generally minced

E          more than 96 months.  Entirely minced


 Notice that ‘A’ in the USA grading system relates to the highest eating quality – exactly opposite to Australia where ‘A’ is for a full-mouth beast.  Theirs is a more honest grade to give to young beef, compared to the mafia of greed here.  Australia must be such a success for the multinational abattoirs. 

In Australia we have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on MSA grading.  It was watered down due to pressure from non-adoption, or a lack of promotion by the retailers, and this is what we have now.     

It is interesting to watch Australian producers get half of the cattle prices that the USA producer receives.  Yet, consumers in the USA buy their beef at very reduced prices compared to Australian consumers.  On average about $3/kg cheaper. 

You know the numerous reasons for this – we have talked about it for long enough.  

Unless Australian grassfed producers can get their act together, support the restructure of their representative organisation, and take control of their own industry with a strong united vote, then we will see beef consumption fall even further due to inconsistency of the product. 

The fact is that chicken and other meats continue to get an increasing share of the protein dollar market, is in large part due to the inconsistency of the guarantee of beef eating quality.

David Byard

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