STAKEHOLDERS from across the red meat supply chain can contribute to the discussion over the future direction of the beef industry’s language, following the opening of public submissions to the white paper on the subject this week.
The Australian Meat Processor Corporation and Meat & Livestock Australia are jointly backing a complex project to examine all aspects of the current meat and livestock trading language, from how it’s used in livestock description on-farm through to how it applies in the retail cabinet in a supermarket in Australia or overseas.
The background notes to the project says it plans to undertake a critical scientific examination of how future developments in science and technology, markets and market constraints and the changing wants and needs of customers and consumers, might potentially reshape the industry language.
The outcome will be a White Paper which will consider existing and potential new descriptors (both objective and subjective) at each stage in the red meat pipeline, covering production, processing, wholesaling, retailing, consumption and future societal and government requirements.
The White Paper, likely to be finalised some time in the first half of next year, will also develop a range of future language options, test those against a diverse range of trading situations, and then propose a preferred option for industry consideration.
“Without in any way seeking to pre-empt the content of industry submissions, it is unlikely that the White Paper will propose the development of a ‘totally new’ language system, but instead is likely to focus on progressive modifications and additions that accommodate new opportunities for beef,” the discussion paper says.
According to the document, stakeholder submissions:
- May relate to any sector of the beef supply chain, from paddock to plate and for both the domestic and export markets
- May contemplate changes that are required or desirable at any time between now and 20 years into the future
- May comment on the existing beef language, its strengths, weaknesses and ideas for improvement, or potential opportunities for the future beef language system, or other matters relevant to the White Paper
- Should be clearly argued and supported by evidence (scientific, production or financial data, or other published materials) where this is available.
Readers can click here to learn more about the white paper submission process.
Beef Central foreshadowed the establishment of such a language review back in this 2013 article: “Butt shape: Is it time for a broader grading/carcase assessment review?”
MLA’s general manager livestock productivity, Dr Alex Ball, said the project had been launched at the request of industry, because many stakeholders had indicated that they wanted to provide examples of perceived flaws, and a structured response to the four or five key elements in the language review, in order to deliver a clear industry view.
Just some of these key elements include market access and emerging technologies, which are likely to shape the future direction of the language.
“Genomic predictions are a good example of technology advances,” Dr Ball said. “Now that we can validate yield and MSA indexes, what happens in 12 or 18 months’ time when we have a genomic prediction for yield, on a 12-month-old calf? Is that information going to be part of the beef language of the future? If so, how will stakeholders adopt it?”
There were still a lot of ‘known unknowns’ in areas like this, he said, but there were already examples of the supply chain starting to use tools like this.
“In a couple of years’ time, I’m dead certain we will be predicting yields down to sub-primal level, and predicting greater levels of eating quality, and we’ll be having discussions about more objective ways of describing carcase traits, like fat colour, meat colour, pH and marbling. How industry responds to that is the interesting point.”
The industry discussion that surrounds that was going to inform a whole host of other industry work, such as how the Meat Industry Strategic Plan evolves, and how the cattle and sheep industries themselves are going to evolve, Dr Ball said.
“The key point is that the current language does a good job across the whole industry, but there are sectors, and sub-groups within sectors, that would like to see some enhancements or improvements,” he said.
“It may be that there is a base-model industry language that exists in future, with a series of ‘add-ons’, as requirements change with different parameters, which may provide some flexibility in higher-level engagement.”
Using meat yield as just one example, Dr Ball said a base level yield assessment might be adopted, but over and above that, might come greater description for those markets that want to approach yield in a more sophisticated way. The same might apply to MSA, with a base level MSA requirement, in addition to a higher level, in cases where a user might want to employ MQ4 scores to drive different requirements.
Age verification was obviously an area that the review will closely focus on. While there have long been calls from some producers to do away with dentition as a means of age measurement in favour of ossification as used on MSA, views from end customers can be quite different.
As producers were told at a Biloela beef forum in Central Queensland on Friday, various overseas markets required a verification of age, using dentition, for different purposes.
“Some markets require dentition because they see it as an indication of quality. Others require it for insurance against BSE disease risk, in ensuring animals are under 30 months of age. Some markets require different levels of accuracy of that information,” Dr Ball said.
“It’s not just a focus on what works best for the producer – others in the supply chain have a vested interest on the language, and elements like dentition is good example,” Dr Ball said.
“All of these language parameters have to be connected, across the supply chain. Without that connection, we’d quickly get to the point where an element of the supply chain has a requirement, and there would be no capacity to verify that, or understand how that requirement impacts on other parameters across the chain.”
Dr Ball agreed with Beef Central’s assessment that the language white paper project is potentially one of the most complex, and complicated tasks ever tackled by the industry.
“By the end of this calendar year, we’re aiming to have a set of ‘known’ information on the four or five key areas,” he said.
“From that, we’ll start to form a bit of a ‘straw man’ model about what the future beef language could look like. Is it going to be an all-encompassing language, or a model which has a base level, plus a series of add-on modules for different requirements? If we did go for that model, how would it be put in place and regulated? There is a lot to examine and consider.”
“Our goal out of the beef language review is to provide a document and a series of issues and discussion points that stimulates solid industry debate about where we want to be in 2020, and beyond,” he said.
“The final report is going to be a series of recommendations. But its only after that that the really hard works starts, as the industry starts to think about how it’s going to execute it.”
Launceston producer forum
Speaking to a producer audience in Launceston a fortnight ago, Dr Ball said the project was about trying to determine the future direction of the Australian beef language in 2020 and beyond, and what technologies would be likely to underpin that beef language?
“We have seen eight-tooth animals that can produce MSA Index figures well into the 60s, producing four and five star cube rolls,” he said. “That’s the challenge for the industry to start to recognise, and we should be selecting on the parameters that drive eating quality, and taking parameters out that have little impact on eating quality.”
“The key measurements that define the relationship between producers and processors are really starting to have a major influence on that transaction. These measurements are starting to have a huge influence – particularly in beef prices. If you are dropping out of the top end of the JBS farm-assurance system, or PCAS or something similar, you are starting to talk about 30-50c/kg.”
“On a 300kg animal, we’re starting to talk about $100 per animal. We see non-compliance of up to 20pc in many areas, and many producers are suffering in that area.”
“Part of our job is to start to stimulate a bit of a change in this whole culture, and get that transactional relationship between producers and processors on a much more even keel.”
“But to do that, we need confidence in our measurement technology, and it’s an area where processors are leading the way in investing in technologies that we haven’t seen before.”
While many of the measurements than can be made are objective, and can be improved with technologies, the key is to build confidence around accurate, credible, and transparent information across the whole industry. It’s what MLA and the Sheep CRC are focussing on in this area.”