The Mexican government recently opened a proceeding in which grading standards are proposed for Mexican beef. Mexico’s Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA) accepted public comments on the proposal through Dec. 19.

The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) filed comments in this proceeding, raising concerns about how English grade names could be used interchangeably with Spanish names. This could create confusion in the marketplace and diminish the value that the U.S. beef industry derives from the USDA grading system.

“In many respects, the grading system proposed by SAGARPA appears to be modeled after the USDA system,” said Thad Lively, USMEF senior vice president for trade access. “According to the information we have, the proposed standards are designed primarily for exports. So we definitely have concerns about beef from Mexico arriving in the United States or in any of Mexico’s other export markets carrying grade names that are very close to the USDA grades we are all familiar with, but which have fundamentally different definitions behind them.”

There are also significant differences that make interchangeable use of the English and Spanish grade names problematic. For example, marbling scores proposed under the Mexican standard are much lower – by a full score or more – than the scores corresponding to the same name in the U.S. standard. This will be confusing to end users, because products may have identical grade names while offering a substantial difference in eating quality.

Mexico’s proposed standard also includes no distinction for bull or bullock carcasses. Therefore, carcasses from intact males could be graded the same as carcasses from castrated males, even though there is a clear difference in the quality of meat derived from intact versus castrated males.

“Our technical experts at USMEF have reviewed SAGARPA’s proposal in detail, and they’ve identified a number of areas where the actual standards that would be applied in Mexico are considerably watered down when compared to those used in the United States,” Lively explained. “So you could see products carrying the same English-language grade names used for U.S. beef, but in fact the products are significantly different. This is, of course, a concern for USMEF and for our members involved in the production, processing and export of U.S. beef.”

Additional concerns raised in USMEF’s comments to SAGARPA include:

  • Grading of Mexican carcasses will be performed by graders employed by private sector certification bodies rather than the government. These graders will be required, as a condition of their initial employment, to pass an examination administered by the certification body. But their training – both initially and on an ongoing basis – will not be at the level provided to USDA graders.
  • Mexico’s proposed standards include no provision for ensuring that grades assigned by different graders working for different certification bodies are aligned. By contrast, continuous alignment of grades assigned by USDA graders working across the United States is a defining characteristic of the USDA system.
  • The USDA system includes a robust grade labeling program for verifying that the correct USDA grade is applied to box labels and retail packaging. Mexico’s proposal lacks sufficiently detailed instructions in this area.
  • It does not appear that results of grading carried out by Mexico’s certification bodies will be publicly available, whereas USDA publishes regular reports on the results of grading performed across the United States.

“The USDA grading system has helped establish a goal that all sectors of the U.S. industry have worked together to meet, which is improving the quality and consistency of U.S. beef,” Lively said. “It’s really a cornerstone of the message USMEF uses to promote and differentiate U.S. beef overseas, and something we are certainly looking to protect.”

Joe Schuele is vice president, communications, with the U.S. Meat Export Federation in Denver, Colo.