THE concept of sitting down to a perfectly-cooked restaurant rump knowing every tiny detail about the animal it came from may not be so far off.
Indeed, high-end Australian chefs are already asking the beef industry for precisely that ability.
John Kilroy, owner of signature Brisbane steakhouse Cha Cha Char, took the opportunity at an industry breakfast last week to ask how far off it was before restaurateurs could access DNA information on the animals from which the cuts they were purchasing were sourced.
The breakfast was held in Brisbane to celebrate 20 years of Australia’s eating quality program Meat Standards Australia (MSA), which last financial year saw 2.8m head of cattle graded through 42 MSA licenced processors.
Mr Kilroy said of all the beef his establishments had ever sold, MSA product was the most innovative and productive.
“What I want to know is what chance there is that restaurants like ours could ever have DNA information so we know exactly what we are buying,” he said.
“Asians are coming into this country in plane loads and they want to know everything about the product.”
MSA program manager at Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) Sarah Strachan said the feasibility of DNA sampling was indeed being revisited right this moment.
That was happening not only from an MSA integrity perspective but from the angle of examining what more could be extracted where samples were collected, she said.
The cost to store DNA sampling was the hurdle.
“Nowhere in the world can three million DNA samples currently be stored and we are doing that number each year,” Ms Strachan said.
However, technology was constantly evolving, MLA’s Michael Crowley said.
“We are currently looking at technology around rapid DNA testing and whether we can bypass storing samples and have a real time result,” he said.
The cost of genomics testing was rapidly reducing and that was further fuelling uptake.
There were strong commercial drivers making a $50 snip chip worthwhile at the moment and uptake was only likely to increase especially if incentivised by the consumer end, Mr Crowley said.
“If animals are genotyped before getting to the works, we really have an opportunity to link that information to the life history of a particular animal and that has big implications on how we trace from carcase through to box to retail,” he said.
“There is a consumer expectation to know more about the product, there is no doubt of that.”
He pointed to so-called “supermarkets of the future” in Italy, with interactive tables allowing customers to hold up an item to a screen to immediately access a wealth of information.
The consumer of the future would want to be able to pick up a tray of meat and scan it and find out what animal it was from, how it was raised and where and what production methods were used in its lifetime, he said.