Producing and distributing food – guidance

The Beef Carcase Classification scheme: classify carcases

Beef abattoirs must dress, categorise, classify, weigh and label carcases according to regulations, and communicate results to suppliers.

You must dress, categorise, classify and weigh beef carcases within 1 hour of slaughter.

Only a qualified licensed classifier can classify carcases. The classifier does not have to be from your own company.

Automated grading techniques can be used, but you must first obtain a licence from the Rural Payments Agency - see Guidance on automated grading techniques (PDF, 152KB, 1 page) . If these fail to classify a carcase, it must still be classified on the day of slaughter.

Dress the carcase

For more details and images of how the carcase must be dressed, download The Beef Carcase Classification scheme: guidance on dressing specifications and carcase classification (PDF, 751KB, 25 pages) .

You must dress carcases in line with one of these specifications:

  • Standard Specification
  • EC Reference Specification
  • UK Specification

You must not operate a ‘company’ dressing specification.

The table below explains which areas of the carcase must be trimmed for each specification.

  cod/udder fat crown fat bed fat brisket fat thin skirt
Standard Specification on on on on on
EC Reference Specification off off on on off
UK Specification off off off off off

Categorise the carcase

You must identify each carcase as falling into one of the categories in the table below.

Category Description
A Carcase of uncastrated male animal aged from 12 months to less than 24 months
B Carcase of uncastrated male animal aged from 24 months
C Carcase of uncastrated male animal aged from 12 months
D Carcase of female animal that has calved
E Carcase of other male animal aged from 12 months
Z Carcase of animal (male or female) aged from 8 months to less than 12 months

Classify the carcase

To conform with the Beef Carcase Classification scheme, abattoirs must grade carcases according to their:

  • conformation (flesh coverage and overall shape)
  • fat coverage
  • weight

The Beef Carcase Classification scheme sets out an EU-wide ‘Union scale’ for these gradings.

For more detail on the Union scale download The Beef Carcase Classification scheme: Union scale (PDF, 82.1KB, 2 pages) .

Conformation

The Union scale has 6 conformation classes for bovines aged 8 months and over. The classifier makes a visual assessment of the overall shape and flesh coverage of the carcase.

Conformation class Carcase quality Subdivision (where applicable)
S superior  
E excellent  
U very good upper (+) or lower (-)
R good  
O fair upper (+) or lower (-)
P poor upper (+) or lower (-)

Fat coverage

The Union scale has 5 classes for fat cover. The classifier makes a visual assessment of the carcase’s external fat development.

Fat class Fat cover Subdivision (where applicable)
1 low  
2 slight  
3 average  
4 high leaner (L) or fatter (H)
5 very high leaner (L) or fatter (H)

The 15-point scale

Instead of using the standard subdivisions, which only apply to certain conformation and fat classes (eg U+ for conformation or 4L for fat) abattoirs can choose to adopt a more detailed system of subdivisions, called the 15-point scale. Under the 15-point scale, each of the fat and conformation classes is subdivided into:

  • low (marked as ‘-‘)
  • medium (marked as ‘mid’)
  • high (marked as ‘+’)

This greater number of subdivisions allows carcases to be graded more accurately.

Weight

The carcase must be weighed within 1 hour of slaughter.

You must record the weight shown on the scale display and must not round up or down.

To calculate the cold weight, deduct 2% from the warm weight.

Stamp or label the carcase

Under the BCC scheme, you must either stamp or label each carcase (this is in addition to the requirements of the Beef Labelling Scheme).

If you use automated grading techniques, you must use labels.

You must put marks and labels in specific places:

  • on the hindquarters, the label goes on the striploin at the level of the fourth lumbar vertebra
  • on the forequarters the label goes on the brisket between 10 and 30 cm from the edge of the sternum

Marks and labels must not be removed before the quarters are boned.

How to use stamps

You must use indelible, non-toxic ink and the letters and numbers must be at least 2 centimetres high.

The stamp must show the carcase’s:

  • category
  • conformation class
  • fat cover

How to use labels

The labels must be at least 50cm2. The information must be legible.

Any decision to change a classification label can only be made by the person who originally classified the carcase. This person must make any such change themselves by clearly marking the label.

The label must show:

  • the category
  • the conformation class
  • the fat cover
  • the approval number of the abattoir
  • the identification or slaughter number of the animal
  • the date of slaughter
  • the weight of the carcase
  • where applicable, that the classification has been carried out by using automated grading techniques

Labels must be:

  • tamper-proof
  • tear-resistant
  • firmly attached to each quarter of the carcase

Communicate the classification results

You must tell whoever has sent the animal to slaughter the results of the classification, either in writing or electronically. The format you use could be an invoice or attached document.

You must tell them:

  • the classification results (including the subclasses from the 15-point scale if you used them)
  • the category
  • the carcase’s weight (specifying whether this is the warm weight or the cold weight)
  • which dressing specification you used

If the classification was done using automatic grading techniques, you must tell them this too.

You should also tell them:

  • the kill number
  • the date of slaughter

If you can’t tell the person who supplied the animal, you should tell the person or the company responsible for the slaughter operations.