Rising demand for MSA knowledge aligns with growing US beef demand

Jon Condon, 20/03/2024

THERE”S been a sharp spike in interest among international trading partners around understanding the Meat Standards Australia grading system – at least partly driven by a growing appetite for chilled beef trade into the US over the next 12 months.

Meat Standards Australia program manager David Packer said there had been a distinct rise in inquiry from export stakeholders about Australian Beef brands and how the world-leading MSA program underpins these brands to provide consistent eating quality.

“Now that there are global beef supply issues emerging, it’s almost a perfect storm,” Dr Packer said.

Meat Standards Australia has been supporting Australian brand owners and processors in-market for some time, though now ever more so, responding to signals from export customers.

“MSA has been working more and more in international markets in building knowledge and understanding of MSA over the past year or two,” Dr Packer said.

An MSA team visited the United States last year working alongside the MLA International Markets team, conducting workshops and working closely with wholesalers, bigger food service and retail players, right down to individual chefs, to extend their knowledge of Australia’s program. Much of this work was being rolled out through MLA’s Aussie Meat Academy education program.

Other similar workshops have occurred face-to-face in South East Asia and Japan, plus countless online activities  across Asian and US markets, Dr Packer said, often with Australian brand owners.

Part of the purpose was to encourage a move away from simply trying to compare USDA grading outcomes.

There has also been an effort made to build the confidence (and competency) of Australian beef brand owners to engage with overseas customers in talking about achieving consistent eating quality, rather than simply comparing grading systems. Part of this is through simplifying messaging regarding MSA grading and its unique benefits to underpin brand consistency.

“Now, with the emerging supply opportunity the Australian industry is seeing, there is even more demand to work alongside brand owners workshops to help educate their customers – not getting caught up in all the technical detail, but how their brands can provide consistent quality for both grain and grass product,” he said.

“It’s about providing assurances that if an overseas buyer purchases any well known Australian beef brand underpinned by MSA, they will get a consistent eating quality experience every time, as well as the value drivers of each unique brand such as sustainability, traceability, raising claims and other features behind Australian beef.”

Export customers often ask variations of the same question: ‘How does this Australian MSA product compare with USDA Choice or Prime Grade?’

MSA has been working on the development of a suite of supporting tools for beef brand owners, to help in this process. It is hoped these tools will be approved in the near future.

Prior conversations Beef Central has had with Australian meat traders have continually referenced export customers asking variations of the same question: ‘How does this Australian MSA product compare with USDA Choice or Prime Grade?’

The MSA tools aim to address that issue, without being interpreted as undermining or disrespecting the long-standing USDA grading system in any way.

The challenge in this is that the USDA and MSA grading systems operate in different ways, making direct comparisons and purchasing actions more difficult. USDA, a single point carcase assessment, makes no allowance for HGP use or hump height, for example.

Dr Packer said the current MSA supporting activities and workshops was not just focussed on the US market, but was being applied across a range of export markets.

“The good thing is, we had already made a big start in this work – it’s not as if we are having to draw something together in great haste, simply because the US is now showing more interest in Australian beef,” he said.

“We’re already set-up, and supporting those brand owners as the phones start to ring,” he said.





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  1. John Gunthorpe, 21/03/2024

    Let’s be serious! Trying to re-educate US red meat customers to buy Aussie brands is an impossible task. They buy prime, choice or select beef in their supermarkets as branded by the USDA.
    Not allowing USDA graders to grade beef carcasses off US soil is the greatest non-tariff trade barrier Aussie processors face.
    Of course, Dr. Packer is correct. The process of grading in the US is different from MSA grading. But in the end the objective is the same – to distinguish eating quality and to add some consistency to product in marketing red meat. Packers in the US are permitted to return the carcass that misses the grade to the chillers to improve the bloom before representing it to the USDA inspector.
    Surely, it is possible for processors here to use the MSA grading system to identify those bodies that would achieve prime, choice and select in the US market. (Some of our larger processors are packers in the US.) Bodies coming from feedlots would benefit most from this, but grass-fed cattle will also meet the selection process. Indeed, there is a growing market for grass-fed beef in the US and Aussie graded beef would meet this demand.
    There is a perfect storm in front of our industry. However, we need to take a longer-term view and ask DFAT to assist negotiate a branding program where MSA can identify prime, choice and select cuts to market through the US supermarkets. We will need to overcome objections from their powerful livestock lobby, but anything worth obtaining comes with a need for careful negotiation.
    MLA arguing MSA is designed to support brands was developed to overcome their desertion of the original intent of the grading system in order to get the duopoly on side. MSA was supposed to provide a consistency in quality for red meat customers. When the star designation was in use it did. Now MSA is hardly seen on the supermarket shelves and the eating inconsistency is as bad as ever.
    The US military insist all of their people eat choice graded beef. So, it all comes from US packers and Australian feedlot beef is denied access. Sure, it will be Aussie Prime, Aussie Choice and Aussie Select, and there may be a pricing effect, but this is better than entering into a re-education program for US customers.
    Australian Cattle Industry Council

  2. Dirk Geleit, 21/03/2024

    How do we get our hands on this information? It would be such a significant leg-up for all Aussie exporters to be able to explain this fantastic system easily to clients all around the world, especially those with English as their second language!!

    We’ll keep readers advised in coming weeks once the resources are available, Dirk. Editor

  3. Mike Introvigne, 20/03/2024

    MSA started with 3, 4 & 5 Star grades, whereas now no one really knows what MSA grade they are buying.
    I hope the rest of the world is able to get what they think they are buying.

    Don’t forget the MSA Index and Meat Eating Quality score system, Mike. A lot of MSA beef these days is traded on MQ scores, by cut and cooking purpose. A heap more MSA beef is sold under proprietary brands, which themselves carry an MEQ range – a proxy for the old 3-4-5 Star system. Example – JBS Great Southern, Pinnacle and Little Joe. Editor

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