A lamb intramuscular fat percentage trait has become part of Australia's AUS-MEAT language after getting the green light by the Australian Meat Industry Language and Standards Committee.
The trait and the associated accuracy standards which will now be used to accredit lamb grading technology were given conditional approval in May and a revised version were approved last week.
AUS-MEAT chairman Allan Bloxsom said the decision was an important step forward.
The language, developed by national research team ALMTech, can now be applied to lamb grading technologies, including infa-red probes and cameras, opening the way for commercialisation.
"It's very exciting for the lamb industry at this point in time because IMF has a lot of potential," Mr Bloxsom said.
"After all the research that's been done, we now have some accuracy standards that can be applied to technologies going forward.
"It's just now a case of people developing those technologies and getting them in front of us for accreditation."
Mr Bloxsom said the accuracy standards will be discussed with technology providers as they come forward, with those businesses then having to put their technology to a trial situation with a processor and industry stakeholders
"If that particular item of equipment meets those standards, which include repeatability and accuracy.... then they gain approval," he said.
ALMTech chief investigator Graham Gardner from Western Australia's Murdoch University said the team had been working very hard to develop technologies that can develop intramuscular fat percentage in lamb as it was a crucial trait for eating quality.
"We have been working on that trait for quite a while and it's a crucial next step for industry... it's one thing to measure a trait that matters to the lamb industry but to be able to trade upon it, it needs to be part of the industry language," he said.
"We've got an MSA model, MSA Mark II we're calling it, ready to deploy across industry but to actually deploy that model we need IMF percentage as an input value, so we need the technologies that can measure that trait so they can effectively enable industry to start predicting eating quality and start acting on it.
"While we have been going flat out developing those measurement technologies, industry can't actually trade upon that trait unless it's been enshrined within the language and that has occurred at the end of last week."
Professor Gardner said the language defines the gold standard measurement lamb grading technologies are trying to predict, as well as the error tolerances and accreditation and auditing requirements for any device.
"In effect this creates the goalposts for a technology company that wants to come in and start to commercialise the device... they're set in stone, they know what the target is," he said.
"They know how accurate and how repeatable their device has to be.
"They also know what the accreditation process itself will be when they try to get the device approved and they also know what the subsequent auditing requirements will be once they get it deployed across industry.
"If they don't know those things, it represents a massive risk and you can't get companies to come and invest in the space without the confidence of knowing where the goalposts are... for that reason alone, it's been absolutely crucial."
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Professor Gardner said the changes to the AUS-MEAT language will provide greater confidence to technology companies and to industry to use carcase measurement technology more effectively.
"The error tolerances that we've defined, they would enable a supply chain to, using a device that meets those error tolerances, differentiate a premium lamb from a good everyday lamb," he said.
"All lamb is good, but there is still variation within it and this would enable them to draft out an elite lamb brand from what they routinely kill."
Professor Gardner said the lamb MSA model couldn't be deployed yet because of the lack of device that can measure intramuscular fat in real time at chain speed in an abattoir.
"Once we have got those devices, they can inform the IMF value, which is an input into the MSA lamb eating quality prediction model," he said.
"The second we've got a device in place in an abattoir, that abattoir can access the MSA Mark II model... it is literally ready to go.
"We've got our finger hovering over the go button and all we need is a plant to install an intramuscular fat percentage measurement.
"For us the end game is when the industry itself starts trading upon these traits."
The move comes after Gundagai Meat Processors this year introduced a world-first value-based lamb grid, offering a 50 cents-a-kilogram premium for lambs with an intramuscular fat measurement of five per cent or higher.
Professor Gardener said he believed there were likely to be three devices that would be the first to seek accreditation- the MEQ Probe in use at GMP, a hyperspectral camera that JBS will be installing and testing at its Brooklyn facility and a near-infrared spectrometer.
"We've already demonstrated that all three of those devices have good potential for predicting IMF within the error tolerances that are required, so I'm hoping that over the next 18 months we see accreditation attempts by the companies marketing those technologies," he said.
MEQ Probe chief executive officer Remo Carbone welcomed the introduction of the lamb intramuscular fat percentage trait.
"We are delighted with the landmark decision by the Australian Meat Industry Language and Standards Committee to incorporate lamb intramuscular fat percentage trait into AUS-MEAT language," he said.
"It validates and cements the importance of IMF to lamb eating quality and heralds a new beginning for lamb meat grading.
"We are confident that MEQ Probe technology, which utilises spectral analysis to measure IMF, will push lamb grading further and go a long way in supporting the red meat industry.
"The adoption of IMF grading as an industry-standard will help us bring a consistency to the quality to lamb and cement Australia as the global leader in terms of supply."
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