Research »   Carcass Grading


The grading of beef carcasses is an important step in delivering consistent beef products to consumers. Grading places carcasses into uniform groups of similar quality. The information collected through the grading process is used in making marketing and production decisions. Producers receive premiums for carcasses with a high grade. While the grading system is voluntary, virtually all fed beef carcasses processed commercially in Canada are graded.


What is Considered a Beef Carcass?

As indicated in Canada’s Livestock and Poultry Carcass Grading Regulations, 'beef carcass' means the carcass of a slaughtered bovine animal that is produced for beef and has had the following removed, namely,

(a) the hide,
(b) that portion of the head and neck forward of the first cervical vertebra,
(c) that portion of the foreshank below the carpal (knee) joint and that portion of the hindshank below the tarsal (hock) joint,(d) the respiratory, digestive, reproductive and urinary systems and the thoracic and abdominal organs,
(e) the membranous portion of the diaphragm and the pillar of the diaphragm,
(f) the spinal cord,
(g) the kidney fat, pelvic fat, heart fat and scrotal or udder fat,
(h) the tail posterior to the first coccygeal vertebra, and
(i) any portion of the carcass the removal of which is required for pathological reasons under the Meat Inspection Regulations, 1990.

How Canadian Beef is Graded

Carcass Grading
AAA Stamp

The Canadian beef grading system follows standards set by the Government of Canada based on industry and government recommendations. The Canadian Beef Grading Agency (CBGA), a private, non-profit corporation, is accredited by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to deliver grading services for beef in Canada. Trained graders visually assess the whole carcass based on several criteria and assign a grade.

All carcasses graded Canada A or higher receive both a quality grade and a yield grade.

Quality Grade

The quality grade measures numerous characteristics, which reflect meat quality. A carcass may only be graded after it has been inspected and approved for health and safety standards and bears a federal or provincial meat inspection legend or stamp.

Maturity The age of an animal affects the tenderness. Carcasses are categorized as youthful or mature.
Sex Pronounced masculinity in animals affects meat colour and palatability.
Conformation (muscling) Meat yield is influenced by the degree of muscling.
Fat (colour, texture and cover) Fat colour and texture influence consumer acceptability. Fat cover affects yield.
Meat (colour, texture and marbling) Meat marbling affects eating quality for juiciness and tenderness. Colour and texture influence consumer acceptability.

Canada Prime The highest marbled quality carcasses are given the ‘Canada Prime’ grade. Canada Prime represents carcasses with at least “slightly abundant” marbling. In 2012, the Canada Prime grade represented 1.1% of all graded beef from fed slaughter cattle in Canada.

‘A’ Grades Canada ‘A’ grades (A, AA, AAA) are also high quality grades, representing increasing degrees of marbling from Canada A to AAA respectively. The segregation into different marbling ranges permits consumers, retail, and food service options in fat content. In 2012, the Canada A, AA and AAA grades together represented 97.1% of all graded beef from fed slaughter cattle in Canada.

‘B’ Grades The 'B' grades are for youthful carcasses that fail to meet one or more of the quality requirements of the 'A' grades. In 2012, ‘B’ grades represented 1.8% of all graded beef from fed slaughter cattle in Canada. Beef with ‘B’ grades may be prevalent in fast food service.

Carcasses graded as ‘B4’ are called dark cutters. They are visually unappealing and have a higher pH than typical beef. Beef from dark cutters is often used in further processed products.

‘D’ Grades The 'D' grades are applied to carcasses which are not youthful. They are typically given to carcasses from cows and represented 13.2% of the total graded cattle in Canada in 2012. Beef given a ‘D’ grade is typically used for ground beef and further processed products with the exception of the D1 grade, where whole muscle cuts may be used in low cost food service enterprises.

‘E’ Grades The 'E' grade is reserved for mature bulls or youthful bull carcasses showing pronounced masculinity. This grade represented 0.5% of the total graded cattle population in Canada in 2012. These carcasses typically go into further processed products.

Because grading is voluntary, cows and bulls are often not graded and are referred to as "ungraded" beef when sold.

Canadian GradeMaturity (Age)MusclingRib Eye MuscleMarbling *Fat Colour and TextureFat Measure
CANADA PRIME Youthful Good to excellent with some deficiencies Firm, bright red Slightly abundant Firm, white or amber 2 mm or more
CANADA A, AA, AAA Good to excellent with some deficiencies Firm, bright red A - trace
AA - slight
AAA - small
Firm, white or amber 2 mm or more
B1 Good to excellent with some deficiencies Firm, bright red No requirement Firm, white or amber Less than 2 mm
B2 Deficient to excellent Bright red No requirement Yellow No requirement
B3 Deficient to good Bright red No requirement White or amber No requirement
B4 Deficient to excellent Dark red No requirement No requirement No requirement
D1 Mature Excellent No Requirement No Requirement Firm, white or amber Less than 15 mm
D2 Medium to excellent No requirement No requirement White to yellow Less than 15 mm
D3 Deficient No requirement No requirement No requirement Less than 15 mm
D4 Deficient to excellent No requirement No requirement No requirement 15 mm or more
E Youthful or Mature Pronounced masculinity (enlarged: hump, neck, crest, pizzle eye)

Yield Grade

When a carcass qualifies for Canada Prime or any of the Canada ‘A’ grades, a prediction of carcass lean yield is also made.

Yield grade Canada 1, Canada 2 or Canada 3 is an estimation of the percentage of the carcass that is red meat.

Yield GradeEstimated Yield (%)
Canada 1(Y1) 59 or more
Canada 2(Y2) 54 to 58
Canada 3(Y3) 53 or less

A ruler, developed by the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Lacombe Research Station, is used to measure the fat depth and ribeye length and width. These measures of fat and lean are then used to predict an overall carcass lean yield.

Carcass Grades Chart

 Canadian Beef Carcass Grade 2014


U.S. Grade Equivalency

The U.S. equivalent grade for Canada Prime is USDA Prime. Canada AAA, AA and A are equivalent to USDA Choice, Select and Standard respectively.

U.S. Yeild grade 1 to 5 is also largely based on fat and REA (Hot Carcass Weight + Kidney Pelvic Heart fat). It does not reflect total lean percent, but a prediction of cutability for closely trimmed, boneless retail cuts from the round, loin, rib and chuck.

Beef Grading Advancements

Evaluating and developing grading tools and sharing information are necessary in order to improve the grading process for the delivery of a consistent beef product and sending signals back to producers for livestock production.

e+v Technology

Photo credit: Canadian Beef Grading Agency.

One of the most recent developments is the computer vision grading system e+v Technology GmbH Beef Instrument Technology. It marks the first major advancement in the Canadian system since the Computer Vision System (CVS) camera was introduced in 1999. The e+v technology is approved for use as a grading aid by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and enables improved grading accuracy under current grading regulations.

The e+v grading instrument is a stationary machine that photographs and analyses the rib eye area between the 12th and 13th ribs of both sides of each carcass as it passes by on a moving rail. At present, the computer grading camera measures grade fat, rib eye width, rib eye length, and calculates a lean yield percentage, providing a lean yield grade and a marbling score. In some situations, such as where it is difficult for the camera to get an accurate reading, a grader can provide an overall assessment or override the camera's grading.

The technology is objective and assesses marbling under the same light and at the same distance from the rib eye based on minute calculations of red and white pixels within the traced muscle. This reduces the variability inherent with human assessment. The information captured can be stored, shared and further analyzed.

Beef InfoXchange System (BIXS)

The Beef InfoXchange System (BIXS) enables the individual carcass data to be shared back down the supply chain with all previous owners of the animal if those owners are enrolled in BIXS. Therefore, cow/calf producers participating in BIXS can use carcass information to aid in genetic improvements and bolster marketing efforts, feedlots can fine-tune their operations and packing plants can better sort their product in order to meet customer demands. Over time, this is likely to contribute to enhancing the quality and yield of Canadian beef.

Current Research

Further research is currently underway to:

      • understand how animal production practices and post mortem processing factors affect beef grade and quality attributes
      • provide strategies to producers and processors for improving beef carcass grade and meat quality
      • increase understanding of how muscle biochemistry and structure relate to beef carcass grade and ultimate meat quality
      • produce an affordable objective portable beef grading machine prototype
Learn More

To learn more on this topic, see the fact sheets posted on the right side of this page. External resources are listed below.

Canadian Beef Grading Agency

Canadian Beef Grading System Brochure
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USDA Grading Services

Grading Updates
Saskatchewan Beef Industry Conference



Feedback and questions on the content of this page are welcome. Please e-mail us at info [at] beefresearch [dot] ca.


Thanks to Cindy Delaloye, General Manager, Canadian Beef Grading Agency, for contributing her time and expertise to writing this page.

This topic was last revised on October 12, 2018 at 04:10 AM.

Fact Sheets

Canadian Cattlemen's Association Verified Beef Production Canada Beef
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