In recent years, much discussion and indeed criticism has surrounded the EUROP carcase classification system, but at long last, viewpoints on the future of the grading scheme and whether it should or should not be altered, are being sought by AHDB Beef and Lamb.
Currently, under EU legislation, the UK has to use this common EU beef carcase classification system which forms the basis of domestic cattle purchase pricing mechanisms, with the ‘base price’ reflecting a point on the grid and premiums/penalties paid for deviations from the base point. 
However, many farmers believe more emphasis should be placed on meat quality, with many also arguing that the current system places price incentives on the wrong parameters. Most grading is based on manual classification which as, as a result, many claim, can also mean huge variations between abattoirs. 
In saying that, Video Image Analysis (VIA) in some UK plants has received a mixed response from farmers.
The UK’s plan to leave the EU means that the EUROP grading scheme will no longer be legally enforceable, however the industry still needs to communicate a clear price for a stated article up and down the supply chain. 
“With Brexit right around the corner, this is the perfect time to have an industry-wide discussion to assess the appetite for change in carcase classification and industry needs,” said Laura Ryan, of AHDB.
“The beef and lamb sector has seen a number of changes and we want to make sure that, with a potential blank canvas in the pricing of cattle and sheep, that we help industry members have the opportunity to consider factors that are important to today’s supply chains and consumers.”
It was a point echoed by Stuart Ashworth, head of economics at Quality Meat Scotland: “QMS is involved in the on-going consultation process which will look carefully at the options available and we would urge all parts of the industry to engage in a constructive dialogue in the coming months on the best way forward.” 
As part of the project, classification methods used globally in Australia, the US, Canada, South Africa, South America and Japan, have also been reviewed and viewpoints from key stakeholders have been taken. Results will be analysed next month and a consultation will be launched over the winter, should the industry strongly support.
To be part of the discussion, interested parties should submit their views on the following by Friday, September 8, by e-mail to
The board is looking for opinions on what elements of EUROP should remain and if so, what? Is there ambition to review both beef and sheep carcase evaluation? What additional elements could be considered? What other methods used have relevance to the UK? How should the industry avoid multiple systems to prevent confusion in a post-EU industry? What role, if any, should RPA or the Government play? How and who should manage pricing reporting?

Other main systems

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) uses a marbling score (MS) as one of its main quality criteria, in combination with age/maturity and type/sex of the animal.
The development of the USDA grading service assesses the degree of marbling at the 12-13th rib, 24 hours post-slaughter and was principally developed to establish the level of finish of a carcase in order to determine the value of cattle and the derived beef. It is claimed this enables more accurate merchandising and market trends, rather than an estimate for anticipated beef eating quality.
The US system also established a reference point for several key parameters, including type of animal (except for bulls which are not eligible for classification), maturity, sex and marbling level. 
Post-slaughter-line chiller assessment by a USDA-certified grader, following ribbing, allocates a quality grade to the carcase, reflecting the degree of marbling and maturity, and a yield grade, based on degree of carcase fat and carcase weight.
USDA yield grades are based on a regression equation using measures of external and internal fat, the area of rib eye, and the hot carcase weight.

The system for assessing yield grade in Canada is similar to that in the USA, which is not surprising given the cross-border trade between the two countries. 
The system is based on measurements of fat depth and rib-eye size using a specially designed ruler. These measures are then incorporated into an equation to give a predicted-lean-yield percentage for the carcase. A quality grade is also assigned to each carcase, largely as a result of marbling and maturity assessments. 
In Australia, the development of MSA found in 1995, that the key components of sex, dentition, weight and fat were unable to predict eating quality. In an attempt to refine this further, additional parameters have been added to include ossification levels and marbling, as well as pre-slaughter factors such as degree of native genetics, use of hormone growth implants and post slaughter treatments, hanging methods and pH/temperature decline.
Going one stage further, it also recognised that carcases, being composed of multiple muscles, would deliver a range of eating-quality experiences and these would also depend on degree of ageing and cooking method. Therefore, for a given muscle, its consumer grade will vary depending on date of use and cooking method.
This thinking has resulted in a complex grading framework with more than 160 cut by carcase outcomes, while the consumer has a more straightforward decision choice of just 3 grades (for a specific cooking method). These being: 3* good every day, 4* better than every day and 5* premium.
The MSA assessment of the beef eating experience was carried out using direct consumer-based work to get a consistent measure of the consumer’s beef eating experience, rather than using a trained panel sensory assessment.
The data was then used in a prediction model for beef palatability, predicting consumer satisfaction, in the form of a score out of 100, which in turn determines a grade outcome. Unlike other beef grading systems, the MSA model does not assign a grade to a carcase but to specific muscle portions cooked by designated methods.
The aggregate benefit to the Australian industry of implementing the MSA system has been estimated to have a benefit-to-cost ratio of 2:1 from its introduction in 2007/2008. This work also highlighted the Australian consumer’s willingness to pay for improved eating quality.

The Japanese market is recognised as the most demanding in terms of quality, but also with one of the highest retail values. Quality factors include marbling, colour, brightness, firmness and texture. Further assessments are made of fat to give a combined quality grade from 1 to 5. A yield grade is also used based on rib-eye area and weight, together with a further assessment of carcase damage such as bruising or inflammation.