Trial will gauge value of new MSA carcase index model

Jon Condon, 15/11/2012


A group of Meat Standards Australia-licensed processors will participate in a four-month trial as part of a significant change to the MSA process, which would see the current boning group approach to sorting carcases replaced by a more efficient and accurate index-based model.

The carcase index would combine quality and yield estimates to better reflect differences in carcase quality. Currently, boning groups are used within MSA as a de facto measure of carcase quality, but in reality are only a crude descriptor of quality.

While the Index proposal has been supported by producer peak council groups, processors represented by the Australian Meat Industry Council are yet to be totally sold on its benefits. A decision was originally due to be made on adoption in early December, but based on processor response, a trial phase will instead be introduced to gauge the impact.

A first-round pilot phase will run through a smaller number of plants up to year’s end, before the trial is opened-up to more plants early in 2013, beef Central was told yesterday. A final ‘go, no-go’ decision on the abandonment of boning groups in favour of the carcase index will be made some time around March/April next year.

Supporters say an MSA carcase index would provide a more accurate descriptor that could be used to monitor both progress over time, and the impact of changes in management practises on carcase quality.

The reasons behind the development of the MSA Index are explained in this earlier Beef Central article, “Carcase Index proposal would replace MSA's boning groups,” quoting MSA steering committee member, Lachie Hart.   

Outlining the development of, and proposed move to the index model to a producer forum in Fremantle today will be MLA’s general manager, Industry Systems, Michelle Gorman.

She will tell the forum, held as part of the MLA annual general meeting program, that the index is a core part of a new approach to MSA.

Michelle Gorman“We know we have an MSA model that has good predictive power. While the current system is of great value to the industry, it uses a fairly simple system (boning groups) for both sorting carcases in the processing plant and sending information back to suppliers on how their cattle have performed.

“We’re looking at how we can take a new approach to both of those,” Ms Gorman said.

“The index is about feeding back information to producers. It will be like a weighted average, providing a score of 0-100 on each carcase that will provide producers with a measure that they can compare their cattle against, year-to-year. The boning group allows them to do that, but it is a much cruder measure,” she said.

She warned that people should be careful not to interpret the index as exactly how each carcase performs, at point of grading. There were still decisions to follow, made by the processor, that could influence eventual eating outcomes, such as aging time, where the cut-offs were positioned, and other factors that could impact ultimate eating performance.

Instead, the index was really about giving a good measure of the potential of a given carcase, she will tell today’s forum audience.

“It can be the basis of a value-based payment system, for example, but it should not be interpreted that a carcase with a score of 80 would necessarily make more money than a carcase scoring 75 on the index,” Ms Gorman said.

While the index model would provide attraction to the processor choosing to develop a 3-4-5 Star program, it also held attraction to simpler MSA programs, where no such distinctions were involved, and less carcase sorting is carried out.

“For example a processor might grade onto three rails: index scores 75s and above on one; 46s to 74s on another; and ungrades on the third. That, for example, would allow those plants that age beef on-site to reduce aging requirements on the first rail, or perhaps harvest another couple of cuts for MSA use.”

“We think there are a variety of ways the index process can be used. The process just needs to capture enough marginal benefit to justify the extra cost involved in perhaps sorting onto an extra rail,” she said.  

“That’s why MSA has embarked on quite a significant consultation process, because every plant is slightly different in its approach. It’s about adapting the sorting system for each application.”

For this reason a pilot program has been established at five or six MSA plants across Australia – large and small, southern and northern, different sorting procedures – to analyse the process and determine potential improvement in value.

“A lot of it comes down to the lowest common denominator approach with the boning group system, which in some cases might see one cut in a carcase bringing down where that carcase falls in terms of boning group – but it may be a cut that the processor’s customer might not even be interested in,” she said.

“The same could apply to a cook method that their customer has no interest in, that is dragging a carcase down unnecessarily.”

“We’re confident that we can demonstrate to processors, via the pilot trial process now underway, that they can increase their MSA cuts harvest, and decrease their aging requirements, where it is an issue,” Ms Gorman said.


  • MLA’s annual general meeting starts in Fremantle at 3pm, WA time, this afternoon. Comprehensive reports to follow on Beef Central.   






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