OK so I just uncovered a really cruddy bit of “marketing sleight of hand” that some butcher shops and super markets do. There are 2 acts of trickery at work here. Lets break them into the following categories.
1 – Misleading consumers using the USDA beef grading system
2 – Misleading consumers using “Certified Angus” Beef labeling
Lets break down #1 first-Misleading consumers using the FDA beef grading system.
Beef slaughter houses have the option of hiring a USDA beef inspector to grade the cattle they slaughter. If they opt to hire this inspector he or she inspects the meat after the animal is slaughtered and grades it into one of the following USDA standards.
Listed highest quality to lowest quality
Prime beef is produced from young, well-fed beef cattle. It has slightly abundant marbling (the amount of fat interspersed with lean meat), and is generally sold in upscale restaurants.
Choice beef is high quality, but has less marbling than Prime. It has at least a Small amount of marbling.
Select beef is very uniform in quality and normally leaner than the higher grades. It is fairly tender, but because it has less marbling, it may lack some of the juiciness and flavor of the higher grades. It has at least a Slight amount of marbling.
Standard and Commercial – Standard and Commercial grades of beef are frequently sold as ungraded or as store brand meat. Utility, Cutter, and Canner grades of beef are seldom, if ever, sold at retail. Instead they are used to make ground beef and processed products.
From the USDA website, here is how a slaughterhouse would go about hiring said inspector.
As you can see from above, Standard and Commercial grades are the lowest quality and the better grades are Prime Choice and Select, OK I get it… so here is the scam… Look very closely at the picture I took of my local butcher shop weekly flyer and see if you can spot it….
Yep! No grade listed. Now here is the thing, it is illegal for a butcher to sell beef with a USDA grade on it if it wasn’t actually graded by the USDA but… the devil is in the details. It is not illegal if you do not list a grade! They list the letters USDA but… no grade. By doing this they have not violated any laws. Those letters mean absolutely nothing! They don’t mean it was graded, inspected or jack squat! They could stand for Unicorn Shapes Delight Americans, or U Should Devour Arugula. Point being they can advertise the filet Mignon as is, without the letters USDA there, and since the letters mean nothing because there is no grade listed after them then why list them in the first place? Why not just advertise “Filet Mignon”?
My theory is they do this so at a glance, consumers see the letters and assume that it has been inspected, graded and falls into either Prime, Choice, or Select Grades, when in FACT, it is NOT ONE OF THESE GRADES! Like I said, the devil is in the details. My money says that filet is Standard or Commercial Grade
#2 – Misleading consumers using Certified Angus Beef labeling
The second misleading practice is throwing around the term “Angus”. Angus is a breed of steer from Scotland. It produces high quality beef, so much so in fact that it has an official designation given to it by the USDA. Here is an excerpt from the USDA website for requirements to be “Certified Angus”
“This specification is for certification by an Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) grader, of U.S. Prime and Choice steer and heifer beef carcasses which: (a) are derived from cattle that meet the phenotypic or genotypic (AngusSource®) requirements of the USDA Specification for Characteristics of Cattle Eligible for Approved Beef Programs Claiming Angus Influence (AAA), and (b) meet the following set of requirements:
1. Marbling score of minimum Modest or higher;
2. Less than 30 months of age with lean color, texture, firmness, meeting the requirements
for A maturity in the U.S. grade it qualifies for;
3. Medium or fine marbling texture;
4. Ribeye Area (REA) of 10.0 to 16.0 in2
5. Hot Carcass Weight (HCW) of 1,050 lbs. or less*
6. Fat Thickness (FT) less than 1.0 inch;
7. Moderately thick or thicker muscling and tend to be at least moderately wide and thick in
relation to their length;
8. No hump exceeding 2 inches in height;
9. Practically free (not detracting from visual quality) of capillary rupture in the ribeye
10. Free of “dark cutting” characteristics.”
Please note I put the words choice and prime in bold above. In order for a steer to be “Certified Angus” it must be at a minimum choice or prime AND meet the 10 additional criteria. We are talking some good beef here right?
And here is the scam..
Much like the “USDA blank” title previously mentioned, there is nothing illegal about advertising this chuck roast as Angus however, you as the consumer also have no idea if it is REALLY Angus. The butcher says it is, but it’s also in the butchers best interest to say it is, after all, we already established Angus beef is better beef.
What you DO know is that this is not “certified Angus.” It may be Angus, it might not be Angus, I guess it depends on how much you trust the butcher. The fact that “Certified Angus” is not listed in the add means the steer this came from was not graded on the 10 points listed above. On the upside, at least this one is clearly marked USDA choice and not “USDA Blank“.
In summary, check your labels, stick with cuts clearly graded by the USDA, be wary of the the term Angus. Keep this in mind and your sure to pick the best beef option available to you.