Record year for MSA grading numbers, as program delivers higher farmgate returns

Beef Central, 24/10/2019


AUSTRALIA’S world-leading eating quality grading program, Meat Standards Australia delivered an additional $198 million to producers in the form of price differentials for graded versus non-graded young cattle in 2018-19, MSA’s annual outcomes report released today says.

That figure translates to a direct in-the-pocket benefit worth $84/head for non-feedlot cattle producers, according to the report – a 30 percent increase on the year before.

The report also highlights that a record 3.5 million cattle were MSA graded in 2018-19, an increase of 350,000 head on the previous year and the highest yearly number graded since MSA’s inception in 1998, representing 43pc of the national adult cattle slaughter.

Not surprisingly, give the severity of the current drought, the proportion of grainfed to grassfed MSA cattle slipped somewhat this year, with 58pc of all MSA-graded carcases grainfed. Some years ago before the drought, there were more grassfed carcases graded than grainfed.

In 2018-19, 4.1 million sheep followed MSA pathways, representing 19pc of the national lamb slaughter, with 73.5pc of these going on into 18 MSA trademarked brands.
MSA program manager, Sarah Strachan, said the program’s latest data demonstrated the value that the MSA program continued to deliver to producers and Australia’s red meat industry.

“In 2018-19, the average price premium for young non-feedlot MSA cattle was 30c/kg hot standard carcase weight, or $84/head according to the NLRS over-the-hook weekly reports,” Ms Strachan said.

“In addition to delivering price premiums for producers, the MSA program ultimately delivers a consistent eating quality experience for consumers in Australia and in our export markets.

Growth in MSA beef and sheep brands continues, with an additional 23 new brands licensed in 2018-19, lifting the total number of MSA licensed brands to 195.

By volume, Queensland continues to process the greatest number of MSA graded cattle with 1.6 million head, while, at 82.4pc, South Australia had the greatest proportion of its slaughter cattle MSA graded.

“Achieving a higher price for our red meat will lead to greater returns for producers, and quality is a key attribute to make that happen and has become an expectation for our consumers,” Ms Strachan said.

“It is a focus for our industry – and MLA – to produce and market a product that consumers have confidence in, and will be willing to pay more for. MSA is a system that can underpin our brands, both in Australia and in export markets.”

Ms Strachan said the benefits of the MSA program continued to attract producers, with more than 3400 new beef and sheep producers becoming MSA registered in 2018-19.

More than 3000 beef and sheep producers attended 47 MSA education days during the year, and 2800 people undertook training via the MSA e-learning portals, she said. The myMSA online feedback portal was utilised by 4300 producers, 16,140 times.

This commitment to education was reflected in outstanding compliance to MSA minimum requirements at 93.8pc for cattle and 96pc for lambs, Ms Strachan said.

With increases in the volume and variation of cattle being presented for MSA grading, producers across the country achieved a national average MSA Index of 57.48.

Ms Strachan said the Eating Quality Graded (EQG) cipher, released in 2017 as part of the Beef Language Review, had continued to have strong adoption.

“The MSA licensed processors and operators now using the EQG cipher within parts of their business, represented 48pc of MSA graded cattle at June 2019,” she said.

By volume, Victoria processed the greatest number of MSA lambs at 2.1 million head, while South Australia had the greatest proportion of the state lamb slaughter following MSA pathways at 42pc.

State breakdown (MSA proportion of state slaughter):

  • Queensland: 44pc MSA cattle
  • New South Wales: 54pc MSA cattle and 4pc MSA sheep
  • Victoria: 17pc MSA cattle and 18pc MSA sheep
  • Tasmania: 68pc MSA cattle and 2pc MSA sheep
  • South Australia: 82pc MSA cattle and 42pc MSA sheep
  • Western Australia: 49pc MSA cattle and 29pc MSA sheep

MSA beef model 2.0

In 2018-19 MSA received industry approval to implement an upgrade to the MSA beef model (see original story). The changes have been endorsed by the MSA Pathways R&D Committee, the MSA Beef Taskforce and the Australian Meat Industry Language and Standards Committee, consisting of leading Australian meat and animals researchers and red meat industry representatives.

There are three main changes to the MSA beef model that will be implemented throughout 2019-20:

  • Hump height will be used as a direct predictor of eating quality: while hump height has always been measured as part of MSA, it will now be used as a direct predictor of eating quality, rather than an estimate of tropical breed content. This change means there will be a new MSA vendor declaration form where tropical breed content will be simpler to record. There will also be an option on this new form for owners of cattle that use agistment or custom feeding operations to receive direct carcase feedback.
  • The number of cut by cook combinations is expanding, including ageing predictions up to 50 days: the number of combinations will increase from 169 to 275. These offer more flexibility and confidence to broaden product offerings for retail and foodservice, and export markets.
  • A refreshed myMSA and Opportunity Index: the new look and feel myMSA portal will be refreshed and easier to use. New features include the Opportunity Index, which helps producers focus on where financial gains can be made and to benchmark carcase attribute performance. It tells producers what their Index would have been if non-compliant carcases met the MSA minimum requirements. In 2017-18 this lost opportunity across Australia was estimated to be more than $20 million.




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  1. M.C.Mirand, 26/10/2019

    MLA should disclose their methodology for calculating this $198 million accruing to producers otherwise it would appear to be just a number plucked out of thin air.The processors are now grading cows,7-10 years as MSA and this old cow meat is being sold on the retail shelves alongside Y and YG meat. Wasn’t MSA designed to stop this rort?Why is it that the ABA is the only industry body exposing these problems?Teys recently stated that age has no effect on eating quality.Consumers think otherwise.

    MSA can provide statistics on the number of cattle 0, 2, 4, 6 and 8 teeth that are currently graded for MSA, and if Sarah can dig it out, we’ll add it to this comment sequence. Our recollection is that grading full-mouth cattle (i.e. ‘7-10 year old cows’, as your comment describes), the numbers are completely insignificant in the context of 3+ million currently graded, and at best a single cut – eye fillet – can be branded MSA. Some may interpret your comment to mean that large volumes of cow beef, harvesting a range of cuts, are sold under MSA. It simply is not the case. Full and real names required for future posts, please MCMirand, as per our long standing comment policy. Failure to do so will simply see submitted comments discarded. Editor

  2. david byard, 24/10/2019

    MSA according to the MLA business plan in 1998 was going to stop the slide of beef consumption, it has clearly failed. When being developed MSA was trialled and trialled again, in order to ensure there was a consistent product for the all-important consumers, what we see now is a completely different MSA grading from the original specifications. It appears that the original specifications were simply too tight, and by 2004 whole system was on the point of collapse. In order to stop the inevitable rules were watered down to get more products into the system, this been very successful for the program and we have seen a huge tonnage increase since 2004. Under the original rules developed in 1998 pregnant animals were deemed to be ineligible, cattle over 30 months age, travelling times have been extended, 34 and five-star disappeared independent graders gone along with mystery shoppers, the list goes on. If rules are diluted or deleted commonsense says you can get more product, through. A challenge for MLA gets on top grade beef under USDA grading and then collect MSA samples from around the country through mystery shoppers, if in fact it can be found, then we could have a bake off and a panel could mark the USDA and Australian MSA. And if in fact MSA is consistently marked the top product we can call MSA the world’s leading quality grading program. Very simple and MLA can prove me wrong and carry out these trials through independent consultants.

    Thanks for your comment, David. Surely MSA’s success, or otherwise, can only be gauged by demand (i.e. price x volume). Red meat consumption worldwide in developed countries has been in decline for the past 20 years, and Australia is no different, for dietary, price and other reasons. It’s a bit tough to pin declining consumption in Australia on MSA. On the price side, it has been a spectacular success – in fact one can pose the question: How much less would beef prices be today without MSA’s impact in removing inconsistency in tenderness? Your suggestion of a ‘taste test’ between MSA and USDA grading is novel, to say the least. We’re not sure it would prove much: almost all of the graded product in the US is 120-130 days grainfed, using British breeds. Any MSA product used in such a comparison would have to be virtually the same, to take any genetics/feeding/management issues out of the equation. Editor

    • John Gunthorpe, 25/10/2019

      MSA has failed to achieve what its designers intended. One stated aim when launched was to arrest the decline in beef consumption by supplying better eating quality to Australian consumers. Having operated abattoirs in the Mid West of the USA and here in Australia, eating quality of beef is totally different and difficult to compare. Beef in USA is much softer to the mouth. Australians are use to a resistance when biting into their beef whether grass or grain fed. When supplying Vlado with aged grain fed sides from Beef City, he often related how he could find equally quality of beef from grass fed cattle in Victoria. He knew his beef.
      I suggest Australian consumers are missing out from the benefits available from MSA. Coles supermarkets are now selling Coles brand steak at $9 a piece. There were Grass Fed offered and King Island brands but no others. There is no mention of MSA on any of the packs or the cooking preferences we were lectured on when MSA was introduced. In the USA consumers can chose between prime, choice, select and non-described beef. Pricing is set to reflect the better eating quality of each designation.
      Unfortunately many of these benefits were surrendered by MLA to attract greater participation by the supermarkets. Their market power forced MLA’s hand and damaged MSA.
      In the FMD free beef trading region, international prices of beef are and have been set by the USA market. The jump in prices came when there was a shortage of supply of livestock and US processors drove up their retail price of beef. US exporters obtained increased prices in North Asia and Australia rode the boom. MSA had no hand in any of this international jump in the prices of beef , cattle or property values.
      It is true Coles are using MSA to select some of their beef. However, meat department KPIs will cause leakage and quality will be mixed and it is.
      So David and Jon you are both right. Unfortunately MSA has failed to achieve what its designers intended. No one knows that better than the MLA chief who worked with David Crombie and his team to develop MSA from all those taste testings last century.
      Australian Cattle Industry Council

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