There haven’t always been so many labels to read and flashy signs to admire in your grocer’s meat case. As recently as the mid-1970s in fact, there was no such thing as a brand of beef. It was all just beef, and you made your decision based on quality grades and pricing.
But that all changed in 1978 with the inception of the first branded beef program — Certified Angus Beef. Since then, the popularity of branded beef has skyrocketed and today there are more than 70 branded programs certified by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. To see a list of all of these programs, or to compare criteria between them, click here.
But what exactly is branded beef?
First, a little background: When cattle started changing in the 1960s and 1970s due to a large number of breeds being introduced into U.S. herds, there was good news and bad news.
The good news? Cattlemen were able to breed bigger, more efficient cattle while improving muscle and leanness.
The bad news? Sometimes even amongst 2 steaks of the same quality grade you could get 2 totally different eating experiences.
So companies decided to start branding beef and marketing it as such. By setting specific criteria and only allowing qualifying cattle or products to be part of a brand, the idea was a consumer would have a better chance of having the same eating experience time after time.
Brands can be based on a breed or breed type, the live animal’s physical appearance, carcass quality, the way the animal was raised, or a combination of many criteria.
As a consumer, you’ve got to decide what is important to you in order to purchase the best beef for your family. If you’re interested in purchasing a branded beef product, I encourage you to do some research (which, of course, should include plenty of taste-testing). There’s a wealth of information online, and there’s nothing like going to the sources — your local butcher or cattle producer!
The most important thing to remember when buying beef, though, is simple: No matter what label you choose, you can feel confident you’re getting a safe, wholesome and nutritious product.