A pilot program started this month to give independent, rural beef processors the ability to grade meat remotely. Meat processing employees will be able to collect images of live animals and carcasses with a smartphone, upload them to a website and get reviews from USDA graders in 24 hours.

The program is an effort by the USDA to expand competition in the market. On-site grading by USDA graders usually happens at large packing plants. The cost of travel to smaller locations typically prevents the agency from including other plants.

Increased access to graders is a big deal. According to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, ungraded carcasses are significantly less valuable than USDA Prime beef.

Read more on the new option for beef grading.