TECHNOLOGY capable of objectively measuring two of the key drivers of eating quality in meat - marbling and tenderness - is about to be commercially tested in beef and sheep processing plants in southern Australia.
Billed as big step forward in providing the next link in the red meat industry’s shift towards objective carcase measurement and value based marketing, the MEQ Probe trials has won support to the tune of $500,000 from Meat and Livestock Australia and progressive processors Teys Australia and the Midfield Group.
As the rollout of objective meat, fat and bone measuring, spearheaded by dual energy x-ray absorptiometry technology, or DEXA, progresses, concerns have been expressed about producers focusing on yield at the expense of quality.
This ground-breaking technology, from Adelaide-based Agtech company Availer, goes a long way to addressing that, red meat processing industry leaders said.
It was vital the industry did not rush to change the payment model until accurate and objective measures of eating quality were in place, they said.
Price signals flowing to producers had to be in the long term best interests of consumers.
The MEQ Probe uses nanoscale biophontonics, a technology originally developed for breast cancer detection. Lasers are inserted into the carcase which are able to give an idea of the chemical composition of meat. Different chemicals absorb and reflect light differently.
Teys manager of industry and corporate affairs John Langbridge said the trials would determine just how much detail on that chemical composition was possible to collect under commercial conditions.
The trials will involve 2400 head of sheep and cattle across different breeds, production systems and seasons.
From the perspective of the processor, the fact the tool could measure these eating quality attributes in a hot carcase had big potential for efficiency gains, Mr Langbridge said.
Human graders currently make their assessments in the chiller.
Reductions in wasted chiller space and more strategic distribution of product to the most lucrative markets could be a significant result.
Ultimately, however, the biggest gains were in the ability to consistently optimise the consumer experience, according to Mr Langbridge.
“More comprehensive, objective data on the carcase means more information back to the producer, and the seedstock producer, so the value chain is working to produce the best beef possible,” he said.
OCM in beef and sheep meat processing has been hailed as transformational and the eating quality side critical in a world where the future fortunes of all along the supply chain will depend on delivering the right product to the consumer every time.
MLA’s managing director Richard Norton said innovation such as this would help Australia maintain its status as a global leader in red meat production.
MEQ Probe chief executive officer Jordy Kitschke said the technology had the potential to ensure every time someone bought a steak or a chop, they had a great experience and it lived up to expectations.
The carcase measurement advancements in abattoirs come against a backdrop of clear evidence of the value of striving for eating quality in cattle and sheep production.
Australia’s trailblazing eating quality grading system Meat Standards Australia delivered a whopping $152 million in additional farm gate returns in the past financial year, according to an MLA outcomes report set to be presented to levy payers at the organisation’s annual general meeting next month.
The data shows more than 3.1 million cattle and 6.1 million sheep were processed through the MSA program in 2017-18.
For cattle, that is 43 per cent of the national adult slaughter, an increase of 3pc on the previous year, while for sheep it represented 26pc of the national slaughter.
The average over-the-hooks differential for MSA-accredited young cattle over non-MSA was 21 cents a kilogram.
Sixteen new brands became MSA-licenced, taking the total number to 172.