New cameras were installed at nine packing plants over the summer. Those plants account for half of all U.S. beef slaughter.
As the percentages skewed, the United States Department of Agriculture stepped in and made adjustments in late October.
Now the percentage of Choice and Select grades has returned to 2016 results, but that might be an over-correction because the five-year trend has been towards slightly more Choice and slightly fewer Selects as feedlots adjust management and genetic gains continue.
The USDA acknowledges that the new cameras were not performing correctly, but does not say the percentage of carcasses grading Choice was not accurate.
The issue “caused a bit of a ruckus because people didn’t know what was going on,” said Colin Woodall, vice-president of government affairs at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
During the period when the new cameras were potentially flawed, the percentage of carcasses grading Choice increased from 72 to 74 per cent and Selects declined by a similar degree.
The issue appears to be measurement of marbling.
Producers and packers agree, however, that camera grading appears to be more reliable than inspector grading.