INDUSTRY “inertia” because of perceived different interests is the biggest obstacle to implementing Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) technology to deliver objective carcase measurement (OCM) for the red meat sector, says Federal Agriculture Department Secretary Daryl Quinlivan.
Mr Quinlivan also believes the DEXA model has great capacity to build increased trust between sheep and cattle producers and red meat processors by providing automated and independent data feedback on carcase quality and commercial yields.
That information standard will also help to stimulate and build the genetic quality of Australian sheep and cattle over time to significantly increase farm-gate returns and industry competitiveness, he says.
Mr Quinlivan ventilated his views on the new technology system as different groups in the red meat sector, like sheep and cattle producers and various meat processors, are assessing their positions on its implementation.
Last week, the Sheepmeat Council of Australia endorsed Meat and Livestock Australia’s (MLA) proposal for DEXA’s voluntary installation in AUSMEAT registered processing plants.
The SCA Board endorsed the MLA plan on the basis that the development and adoption of sheepmeat eating quality measurements are fast-tracked and incorporated into stage two of the proposal.
The Australian Meat Processor Corporation (AMPC) and the Australian Meat Industry Council have also appointed E&Y to conduct an independent review of the OCM technology.
In addition, MLA has a plan to roll out DEXA to AusMeat-approved meatworks for about $150 million.
Cattle Council of Australia President Howard Smith said his group supported DEXA as it improved efficiencies and feedback provided to the farmer.
Mr Smith said those efficiencies meant farmers can produce the right article and ultimately improve the competitiveness of Australian beef on the global stage.
But he said in terms of the $150m roll-out costs, CCA believed a split across producer and processor levies was the fairest option.
CCA also insists that the x-rays are installed in all processors’ facilities, to the benefit of both large and small producers, he said.
Speaking to Fairfax Agricultural Media, Mr Quinlivan said MLA deserved “full credit” for working up the DEXA proposal and putting it out there for the rest of the red meat industry to consider and work on.
“After the consultation and work the AMPC is doing, if some improvements are necessary to the proposal well that’s terrific and that’s the way these processes should work,” he said.
But asked what the biggest enemy was to the system’s implementation, the Department Chief said “industry inertia”.
He also said “and possibly a desire to make sure we’ve got the perfect technology and arrangements in place before we move forward, and then perfect can end up being the enemy of the common good”.
“The concept of objective carcase measurement and the supply of those measurements back to producers to help them make better decisions has the capacity to improve the red meat industry’s productivity and it will also help to build greater trust in the industry,” he said.
“I can’t say that DEXA is necessarily the best technology, although I understand analysis of the various alternatives is showing it is the best technology at present and that’s likely to be proved up by the work E&Y and others are doing.
Mr Quinlivan said the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee’s inquiry into impacts of market consolidation was is also looking at the question of DEXA’s implementation.
He if the OCM tool was clearly shown to be of the benefit to the red meat industry generally, the only remaining questions were; how it would be done and how it would be funded?
Those questions would then need to be considered by industry and the various organisations involved in the process like MLA which they’re now doing, he said.
“For our part, from a public benefit point of view, we’d like to see this technology implemented in a way that’s consistent and on a common platform so we don’t have competing technologies and arguments about the relative merits of different ways of assessing carcases, and producers have confidence about what’s being done with the information about their production,” he said.
“They should have ready access to information about the livestock they supply into the trade, and also have access to some reasonable benchmarks so they can compare their product against industry’s standards generally.
“And thirdly, the industry needs to think about how best to communicate this information back to producers so they can understand and make use of what will be highly beneficial information about the quality of their livestock and avenues for improving the productivity of their herds and flocks.
“For cattle, the unique individual identifier (ear tags) will allow producers to know which bulls and cows have produced the best carcases and they’ll be able to cull and plan their genetic improvement programs based on real measurements of production values, and in return they should be rewarded for that in the market place.”
Mr Quinlivan said the actual starting date for use of the technology was a matter for the red meat industry to resolve.
But he said DEXA needed to be implemented in a cooperative way because agreements were required up and down the supply chain, to install the system in meat processing plants and then devise the necessary arrangements to create and disseminate the underpinning data products.
“It needs to be a cooperative process involving all parties in the supply chain,” he said.
“If the parties can come together and pull off something like this it augurs well for the industry’s future.
“There’s probably not sufficient awareness amongst producers yet about the potential benefits for them of using DEXA technology and there seems to be some parties in the processing sector that are yet to be convinced.
“But they’re constructively involved in conversations about the proposal and have commissioned this work by E&Y and hopefully that’ll lead to either an industry agreement or the basis on which the proposal can be adjusted, to make the most use of this potential.
“MLA has developed a proposal which they’ve been consulting on around the red meat industry and there are a number of consultation and analytical processes under way to test that proposal, and one of them is the E&Y analysis commissioned by the AMPC.
“I’m hoping those processes will come to fruition reasonably soon so that the industry can start planning for the introduction of this model and technology and begin to realise the potential benefits, as soon as possible.”
DEXA technology’s potential to generate a single scientific measurement of carcase meat, fat and bone (lean meat yield) across the industry has also been praised by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in its report into competition issues in the red meat supply chain.
Queensland Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan has also pointed to the benefits of OCM data being shared between producers and processors via DEXA technology, in Chairing the Senate Committee’s inquiry that’s due to report on June 15.
The story Quinlivan: perfect could be enemy of common good for DEXA first appeared on Farm Online.