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When cattle are severely stressed before slaughter there’s an increased risk that the ribeye will remain dark red instead of “blooming” to a bright red color. This phenomenon is called “dark-cutting.” Extremely dark fresh beef isn’t visually appealing to consumers and has a shorter shelf life, so Canada’s grading system assigns these carcasses to a B4 grade to keep this beef out of retail stores.

Dark-cutting only averaged 1.25% of Canada’s youthful fed slaughter in 2021, but it presents a significant cost. For starters, dark-cutting primarily affects the ribeye — other muscles in the carcass (especially those in the forequarter and the outside round) may look perfectly normal. But because the B4 grade is assigned to the whole carcass, and because retailers won’t sell any fresh B4 beef, there aren’t many opportunities to add value to the unaffected beef cuts. Dark-cutters also tend to occur sporadically, so it’s challenging for packers to find buyers for a handful of carcasses per day or week. Because of this, packers discount B4 carcasses by around $300 each. These discounts exceeded $10 million across the Canadian industry in 2016/17.

Dark-cutting carcasses are not assigned to a standalone grade in the US. Instead, they simply drop the quality grade by one score. So, a dark-cutting carcass with Prime marbling is downgraded to Choice, a dark-cutting Choice carcass is downgraded to Select, and so on. Retailers can still specify that they don’t want dark-cutting beef in their orders, but unaffected muscles from those same carcasses would still be eligible for retail. We could do the same thing in Canada by downgrading a dark-cutting Canada Prime carcass to AAA, a dark-cutting AAA to AA, or a dark-cutting AA to A.

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