MULTIPLE objective carcase quality assessment tools could be in use across the Australian beef industry before the end of this year, stakeholders attending an MLA seminar at Beef 2021 were told last week.
Dr Graham Gardner from Murdoch University is the head of meat quality research with ALMtech, the taskforce focused on accelerating the development and commercialisation of technologies to make objective measurements of meat quality and yield.
Dr Gardner also touched on whole carcase analysis systems used primarily for lean meat yield assessment, but this story will focus on his comments on rib site meat quality grading systems. These are mostly associated with traits that feed into the MSA model, including ossification, meat and fat colour, fat depth, intra-muscular fat percentage and pH, plus eye muscle area. In future, it could extend into other traits such as muscle shear-force, he said.
“These are all the different traits we are having a crack at attempting to measure,” Dr Gardner said.
“We’re getting close. We are paying particular early attention to IMF, because it’s a key driver of eating quality in the MSA model, but having said that, having a single device that can capture all the rib-eye traits (Ausmeat and MSA) is the objective. If there are single devices that can capture all of those traits, then that device will be a goldmine, and there are a few that are looking quite promising.”
The systems he identified included the Frontmatic hyper-spectral camera; the VIAScan CAS system; the MasterBeef system; and the E+V rib eye camera.
As reported in this earlier Beef Central story, the German-designed E+V camera has received partial Ausmeat Language and Standards Committee approval for use (lower range marbling scores only at this stage) for objective assessment, and Teys Australia has adopted the system in some of its beef plants, progressively rolling-out into others. The camera is already in wide use in the US beef industry.
Beef Central has also discussed the Masterbeef Smartphone-based camera system at length, in this earlier story. Developer Darren Hamblin and UNE’s Dr Peter McGilchrist gave a separate demonstration earlier in the Beef 2021 program on the technology, used earlier in the event’s National Beef Carcase Competition.
The Frontmatic hyper-spectral camera has been the subject of intense testing at Australian Country Choice abattoir in Brisbane, under an MLA-back trial, and is showing highly promising results in terms of accurancy and repeatability.
Dr Gardner said three of the systems – the Frontmatic, MasterBeef and VIAScan CAS systems – were lining up to seek AusMeat accreditation in September this year, which if successful would allow them to be adopted commercially by industry.
Displaying a Frontmatic camera unit to the audience, he said researchers were fairly optimistic about its prospects of gaining AusMeat accreditation against the industry standard, and being commercially deployed.
He demonstrated how the camera was held above the quartered rib-eye, capturing an image to report on eye muscle area, fat depth, marbling score (both Ausmeat and MSA) and meat and fat colour.
“We’re fairly hopeful that by the end of this year, we will have a range of different devices accredited for use in the industry,” he said. “In effect we are getting very close to commercial delivery.”
Dr Gardner stressed that all the emerging devices were being trained to measure the same traits, and during questiontime he dismissed any prospect of “different outcomes from different systems.”
“We need an array of devices that meet a range of different needs, that crucially, are all trained on the same traits, so that no matter where you go in Australia, the abattoir that you are directing your cattle to will return you the same value or result – regardless of which device is used to make the assessment,” he said.
Improving on manual MSA grading
Dr Gardner said Australia already did ‘quite well’ at a global scale at predicting consumer eating quality through the MSA program – the world’s leading system to measure meat quality.
“But the input values are derived from human interpretation of component parts. That can be done with more accuracy and more repeatability using objective measurement devices, which in turn would enhance the precision and accuracy of the systems,” he said.
Separate from meat quality measurement tools discussed above are thelean meat yield prediction technologies that enable users to predict a carcase’s cut weights.
“With this combination of eating quality and prediction of cut weights, we are able to better reflect the true value within a carcase, which can be transmitted back through the supply chain,” Dr Gardner said.
Wherever possible, technologies under study through ALMtech are also trying to find synergies with automation – DEXA technology is a great example of this, value-adding the pre-existing image in this case, with its ability to instruct robots.
Outside of the meatworks chiller, ALMtech is also doing research on-farm, in one example looking at scanning of live animals for estimated carcase lean meat yield with ‘reasonable accuracy,’ through a project being led by NSW DPI and the University of Technology Sydney.
Making use of data
Making use of the data that these various devices deliver would be absolutely crucial in the process, Dr Gardner told last week’s seminar.
“In some ways, this is the next horizon – developing the fancy widget for carcase assessment is the first step, but then how we use that data it gathers is the crucial next step for industry,” he said.
Ultimately, with new meat quality measurement technologies, it was important that they did not become ‘white elephants’, but were used to feed information in the form of data into existing industry systems, and potentially, new systems.
“For example, carcase assessment data could be used to enhance breeding values in genetic selection, or maybe even enable the development of new trait selections,” he said.
“Better feedback to producers is a no-brainer, but the technologies may also help create decision systems that optimise the turnoff point for slaughter animals, so that compliance can be better met.”
Additionally, the prediction accuracy of the MSA model may be enhanced by new measurement technologies.
“And they may help underpin boning room benchmark systems – abattoirs routinely benchmark the performance of their boning rooms, and they will be able to do so with more precision and accuracy if they have a better expectation of what they should be able to bone from a given carcase.”
“And following strategies already being seen in the pig industry, we can start to make decisions on how to most efficiently bone a carcase, before a knife goes into it, based on the weight of cuts we expect to yield – minimising trim waste, and maximising profit.”