Pork carcasses hanging in cooler marina_karkalicheva/iStock/Thinkstock

USDA seeks proposed revision to pork grade standards

Public comment period open until Dec. 22.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is accepting public comments through Dec. 22, 2017, on proposed revision to the U.S. Standards for Grades of Pork Carcasses. The proposed revision would assist pork producers and processors by better aligning the grades with consumer expectations, USDA said.

USDA grade standards, like those for pork, allow producers, businesses and consumers to identify a commodity by uniform groups of similar quality, yield or value to help facilitate the fair marketing of U.S. agricultural products. AMS works with stakeholders to establish and revise U.S. grade standards for nearly 240 agricultural products.

“When there is a need, AMS considers changes to its official grade standards to ensure they continue to serve their intended purpose,” USDA said. “Over the last several years, extensive research on pork quality, consumer preferences and other factors affecting the marketing of domestic pork provided the basis for the proposed revision.”

According to USDA, the current pork standards were last revised in 1985 and are no longer considered by the industry to reflect the value differences in today’s pork products. As such, the agency believes the proposed change would allow the industry to once again utilize the grade standards as a meaningful tool for communicating pork quality between buyers and sellers.

“Between 1985 and today, the pork industry and the pork carcasses and products that it produces have undergone significant change. The pork industry reacted to the consumer demand for leaner pork by making changes in genetics and nutrition. Unfortunately, during that period when production strategies focused on producing leaner pork, marbling and color became less important,” USDA explained.

Now, however, research indicates that today's consumers are interested in a more consistent pork product with a greater focus on marbling and the color of the products, USDA said, adding, “The pork industry is working to meet this demand, again by making changes within the genetic and nutrition systems.”

According to USDA, the use of its current pork grade standards has been nonexistent since the mid-1970s. The ability to differentiate pork into quality groupings and values has been a critical missing link, the agency said.

“In the absence of a meaningful USDA pork grade standard, pork packers and processors have taken the initiative to sort the darker-colored, higher-marbling pork for many export markets, where demand is extremely high and associated price premiums exist," USDA explained. "They also have developed branded programs with selection criteria that use both color and marbling to identify premium pork products.”

USDA’s proposed revised standard for the industry seeks to identify marbling and color as the primary considerations for quality designations instead of lean/fat and yield, as exists in the current standard. Additionally, the proposed revised standard excludes the provision for grading sow carcasses and instead maintains the official standards for barrows and gilts only.

The proposed revision appeared in the Oct. 23, 2017, Federal Register. Comments may be posted online at www.regulations.gov, submitted by email to [email protected] or sent to: Pork Carcass Revisions, Standardization Branch, Quality Assessment Division; Livestock Poultry & Seed Program, AMS, USDA; 1400 Independence Ave. S.W.; Room 3932-S, STOP 0258; Washington, D.C. 20250-0258.

Comments received will be posted without change, including any personal information provided. All comments should reference Docket Number AMS-LPS-17-0046, the date of submission and the page number of the issue of the Federal Register.

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