As early as this fall, consumers could have another label to consider on certain cuts of beef: USDA-Certified Tender or Very Tender.
The changes come as a result of cooperation between industry, academia and the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service to provide consumers with "a more useful purchasing tool," USDA said. Currently, USDA's Beef Quality Grading Program typically predicts consumer acceptance of beef, not necessarily beef tenderness.
USDA said the new label is important because tenderness can affect consumers' eating experience – and potentially producers' bottom lines.
"USDA is pleased to offer this new verification program that provides American producers with another marketing tool to promote their quality products," said AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo. "The tenderness label also gives consumers additional information to use when making their purchasing decisions."
Cargill, Inc., last month became the first major processor in the U.S. to receive USDA's approval for its beef tenderness program. Two other programs are currently under review – one other beef processor and a major grocery chain.
The designation is based on a system that determined consumers' perceived thresholds for tender or very tender beef. Based on an objective scale, the system ensures that specific beef cuts consistently meet these established thresholds, USDA said.
While some immediately supported the program when it was announced in early 2012, others said there were deeper economic considerations that could come with the new label.
Kansas State Agricultural Economist Glynn Tonsor noted in an August, 2012, paper on the topic that there were lingering questions about the program's potential economic impact, including actual consumer desirability and oversight of the program.
But USDA maintains that the tenderness label is a benefit to consumers and the beef industry, and so does its first adopter.
"We know that beef attributes such as tenderness, flavor and juiciness are important to consumers and the long-term health of the American beef industry hinges on our ability to consistently deliver the best possible beef eating experience," Cargill President John Keating said.