MSA program changes address indicus content, cooking styles, new cuts

Jon Condon, 21/03/2019

MSA’s Sarah Strachan addresses the AgForce Cattle board on upcoming MSA program changes


A SERIES of changes will take place within Meat Standards Australia later this year, as the now 20-year-old grading system continues to evolve to meet changing consumer tastes and market applications.

The upgrade includes features that will impact right across the production chain, with some of direct significance at producer level. All will help broaden MSA’s exposure to the market.

The changes will be embedded over a three-month window, as the 41 MSA-accredited processors across Australia transition into the upgrade between early June and the end of September this year.

MSA is mapping out a producer education campaign to support the upcoming changes, as well as working closely with individual processors and their supply chains. More details on this below.

MSA operations manager Sarah Strachan outlined the upcoming changes to the MSA beef program during a recent briefing to the AgForce Cattle board in Brisbane. Here’s a quick summary of what’s coming up:

New cooking styles

With the explosion in interest among passionate ‘foodie’ consumers that’s occurred in the past few years in new cooking techniques, several new cook methods will be added within the MSA eating quality prediction model. These include the popular ‘Texas BBQ’ low and slow cooking method, sous vide baths and combi-ovens, now widely used in larger food service industry applications.

New and emerging beef cuts

The greater adoption across the industry of seam-cutting of beef primals into smaller sub-primals that each perform differently in eating quality is also being recognised in upcoming MSA changes (click here to view earlier report). Newer cuts that previously did not carry an MSA eating quality claim, such as the flatiron steak and petit tender, and several other cuts from the chuck primal, will now carry an MSA eating quality claim.

Extended aging regimes

As more MSA-derived product penetrates export markets (for example, through the use of the Eating Quality Graded cipher, instead of dentition based quality ciphers – click here to view earlier story), the program’s eating quality predictions have been extended to include longer aging periods.

In markets like the Middle East, for example, it is not uncommon for Australian chilled beef to spend up to a month on the water getting to its destination, and the upcoming MSA model additions are designed to account for that, out to 50 days aging.

For an exporter knowing they have a 35 or 40 day transport aging window up their sleeve, the adjustment will allow them to pack export product that will meet MSA requirements to optimum effect. The aging extension is expected to have little or no relevance on the domestic market, however.

Indicus content/hump height assessment

The upcoming MSA model change of greatest direct significance to beef producers concerns the assessment of Bos Indicus content and its proxy, hump height.

Currently, beef producers consigning MSA cattle must make a declaration on % Bos Indicus content, via the MSA vendor declaration attached to the NVD.

While its possible for mobs to be split into two or more groupings, for mixed mobs being consigned as a single line, the animals with highest estimated % bos indicus becomes the ‘default’ for the group.

In recent years, an option was introduced to use the MSA grader’s hump-height assessment to ‘predict’ the indicus content. This has been widely used on mixed indicus content consignment mobs.

“Under the current system, it is using hump height (as assessed by the grader) to predict the Bos indicus content in each animal. The changes to the system will bypass that component,” Ms Strachan said.

“We are no longer trying to predict Bos Indicus content, because the MSA consumer sensory research clearly shows that hump height, itself, has a direct relationship with eating quality, without having to align it with indicus content,” she said.

The MSA research has also compared the accuracy of hump height (measured with a simple ruler) with a genomic test in the ability to predict eating quality, accounting for indicus contentand found the two were ‘very close’ in level of accuracy. Click here to view this R&D report.

Given these developments, Beef Central asked why there was still a need for a producer to declare indicus content at all, and why the sole arbiter should not be the MSA grader’s hump height assessment.

In response, Ms Strachan said there were some examples of MSA slaughter cattle with ‘no indicus content,’ that could be discounted on MSA eating quality scores on the basis of hump height measurement alone.

“As a result, we did not want to take anything away from the program, but simply make it more accurate,” she said. “Due to the variation in hump heights in true bos taurus cattle, using 0% declaration, backed up with hump height, provides the most accurate outcome for these cattle”

Using British or European breeds as an example, some sub-types within the breeds can be quite heavily muscled, and can exhibit more hump than others. The new MSA model also has an in-built tolerance for hump height, adjusting as the animal gets heavier in carcase weight.

For a carcase that presented as a British or European breed, but had a hump height outside the tolerance range for its carcase weight, the model would over-ride the declaration and adjust the eating quality scores, Ms Strachan said.

“So even though some cattle may be declared at zero indicus, there is still an inbuilt protection in the model.”

The current MSA model is described as ‘quite conservative’ in its approach to hump height, predicting the eating quality outcomes that will minimise any risk for the consumer. ‘

“By avoiding trying to establish any relationship with indicus content, and instead applying hump height for each individual animal directly to the model, it will be a lot more accurate,” Ms Strachan said. “Both producer and processor will benefit from that.”

Currently, hump height scores are included on an individual animal basis in MSA grading feedback sheets, and can also be factored-in when producers use the MSA index calculator. In this case, they can see what effect on MSA index a change to hump height would have on their scores.

“Looking at a future MSA feedback report, everything will look exactly the same – it’s just the maths that sits behind it that will change,” Ms Strachan said. “No producer will see a drastic change in their MSA index results, for example, because the one measurement has an effect across 40 different cuts under the MSA model. It is more fine-tuning.”

She said the benefit would primarily be seen in those MSA slaughter cattle that sat somewhere on the spectrum between bos Taurus and ‘high content Bos indicus.’

“Once you get into higher bos indicus, the hump height consideration maxes out,” she said. “It’s not a continuous scale, so while hump height measurement might keep increasing, the eating quality impact no longer changes, beyond a certain point.”

“It’s those crossbred type cattle, that represent a large segment of MSA slaughter, especially in Queensland, where the change will have greatest relevance,” Ms Strachan said.

Another interesting outcome from MSA’s hump height/tenderness research is that in some of those more muscular straight bos Taurus cattle that have an elevated hump height, they also have been shown to have a negative impact on eating quality.

In future, MSA suppliers will simply be asked to make a declaration confirming that a line of cattle carry zero bos indicus content, or they do not. For cattle where the answer is unclear, they will simply tick ‘no.’

MSA Feedback advances

In another important MSA development coming soon, producers who have cattle being custom-fed in feedlots for MSA programs, or whose cattle are away on other people’s properties on agistment before slaughter, will in future be guaranteed access to MSA carcase feedback.

Prior to this, that feedback has only been able to be sent to the property (or feedlot) from where they were consigned for slaughter. From later this year, feedback will automatically be made available to the ‘owners’ of those agisted or custom-fed cattle, rather than private arrangements having to be made for access.

My MSA improvements

Some upgrades are also planned for the MyMSA producer feedback portal in coming months.

As part of a facelift designed to make the platform more user-friendly, it will include a new feature, called the Opportunity MSA index to be shown on carcase feedback reports. It will provide a ‘what if’ scenario, where producers will be able to seeprojected MSA score impact from applying changes to their production system.

“We are seeing some processors and brand managers become more sophisticated around their MSA use – in some cases segregating out different quality levels within the spectrum of beef produced within a brand program, and paying different levels for each (see earlier report),” Ms Strachan said.

“This new Opportunity Index will allow producers to see what ‘could have been,’ if more of their cattle had met the MSA minimum requirements.”

Currently, if a producer’s cattle do not meet MSA requirements, they automatically receive a ‘zero’ score on the MSA index in their feedback report. (This applies specifically to pH and fat cover – failure on a company-controlled specs means they still receive an MSA Index score).

But available only through MyMSA, those reports will now show what the outcome could have been, if they had fixed up any failure issues surrounding pH and fat cover.

Knowing the price incentives offered by their MSA processor partners, producers would then be able to do a back-of-the-envelope exercise to monetise the ‘lost opportunity’ in their consignments, and look at ways of shifting more cattle from ungrades into the premium cells on the grid.

More details on this closer to launch time.


  • MSA is mapping out a well-planned approach to producer education over the upcoming changes to the program, as well as working closely with individual processors and their supply chains. Other generic information will pass through the MLA comms channels, and industry connection-points like Beef Central.


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  1. Rod Menzies, 24/03/2019

    Great to see that the MSA grading system is coping with “Change”
    and upgrading the MSA system to cope with changing consumer preferences.

  2. Ian Fox, 23/03/2019

    Thanks for all this interesting information, we would love to go along to your industry information day when next conducted in our region. Ian Fox Cobram.

  3. Beau Surawski, 22/03/2019

    Will an index score on a European steer (0% BI)which can often be around ‘70’ hump height be higher or lower?

    Also of note from my observations are as cattle a left to finish more ie. have a higher P8 score and aim to maximise intramuscular fat and increase MSA index, inadvertently fat is also being laid in the hump/crest which has a negative effect on MSA index

    MSA’s reseponse below, Beau. Editor

    Hi Beau – the impact that hump height has on an animal’s Index score is calculated using a combination of three factors: weight, sex and hump height. A heavier animal with a 70mm hump and 0% Bos indicus content may see no change in Index as its increased weight (as an animal gaining fat, it will also gain weight), will counteract the change in hump height. Whereas an animal of the same breed and hump height, but a lower carcase weight may see a negative effect.

    It’s also important to note that hump height is just one factor used to calculate the MSA Index, and can be counteracted by improving other traits. See this link to the MSA Beef Tips & Tools Info Kit for more information on the Index or this presentation on how incremental on farm changes can impact your MSA Index

  4. Gil Schmidt, 21/03/2019

    The greatest problem is meets MSA FAILS COMPANY SPECIFICATIONS and when queried never get a satisfactory answer. Until there is one standard grading system for MSA and graders are periodically tested irrespective and processors comply there is no credibility.
    As for feedback why aren’t the failed carcases identified with the reason for failure? Talking to Agforce is a waste of time, talk to the accredited producers.

    Thanks for your comment, Gil. MSA offers the following response:

    MSA measures and applies requirements on carcase traits that will impact on a consumer’s eating experience. A minimum of 3mm rib fat coverage, adequate carcase fat distribution and an ultimate pH of below 5.71 are the minimum requirements a carcase must meet to be MSA eligible. When a carcase fails these requirements, these are shown in red on the carcase feedback sheets in myMSA.

    Companies may choose to implement specifications over and above the MSA minimum requirements, e.g. meat colour, fat colour, marbling requirements. While some company specifications may not impact directly on eating quality, they are commercially important to your processor and should be taken into consideration when consigning cattle.

    To ensure accuracy of MSA graders, the graders themselves are assessed every 8 weeks using a nationally standardised testing system managed by AUSMEAT.

    For more information on the difference between MSA minimum requirements and individual company specifications check out this webinar MSA held with AUS-MEAT or watch this quick one-minute explainer


  5. Brett McCamley, 21/03/2019

    It appears the more things change the more they stay the same. The sooner MSA loses “Hump Height” as an indicator the better. Anyone who has produced and slaughtered their own beef will know that there is a huge variation within breeds and content as there is between breeds and content. Bos-Indicus content has very little to do with EQ. EQ is more relative to upbringing, nutrition, genetics within a breed, and handling than breed content. The worst beef I have eaten is from a 28 month old Angus, finished for 60 days on grain.

    Thanks for your comment, Brett. MSA offers the following response:

    While Bos indicus breeds are an important breed option for the northern Australia climate, MSA research has shown that the Bos indicus trait on its own has a negative impact on the eating quality of many cuts. However, this negative impact can be partly offset when other traits such as growth rates, ossification and marbling are optimised – allowing these animals to produce many cuts with excellent eating quality. On the other hand, while the Bos Taurus trait on its own has a more positive impact on the eating quality of many cuts, this this impact can also be affected by factors including a high pH, inadequate fat distribution, producing cuts with poor eating quality.

    For more information on the effects of hump height and tropical breed, and how they’re measured check out page 11 of our MSA Tips and Tools Beef Information Kit or watch this one minute explainer on how hump height relates to the MSA model

    And for more information regarding the relationship between hump height, Bos indicus content, and consumer eating quality visit


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