The beef industry’s Meat Standards Australia (MSA) has provided producers, processors and consumers with accurate information about carcases’ eating quality for many years, and the lamb industry is on its way to rolling out its own measurement system.
Technologies that can predict eating quality are currently being tested, driven by Meat & Livestock Australia’s (MLA) $28 million investment into new research last year, as well as the Sheep CRC and the Advanced Measurement Technologies for Globally Competitive Australian Meat programs.
These systems have been in the works for five years, and according to Murdoch University biochemistry and nutrition professor Dave Pethick, Perth, WA, they have the potential to add value to multiple points along the supply chain.
“The predictors that we’re working on are a combination of sire type, hot carcase weight, lean meat yield, and intramuscular fat,” Mr Pethick said.
“DEXA technology is getting mature, and that’s what we use to measure lean meat yield, but the part that is difficult to measure is intramuscular fat.”
A hyperspectral camera developed by a Denmark company Frontmatec will be commercialised in the beef industry to assess intramuscular fat and other quality parameters, and this is being calibrated to be used on lamb carcases.
Another technology is near-infrared imaging, which is commonly used in agriculture, for example to measure grain quality, and is also being trialled on lamb samples, with work being undertaken in New Zealand as well.
Mr Pethick said these technologies were looking promising, and should be usable by 2019.
MLA general manager research, development and innovation Sean Starling said in addition to the MSA grading system, there were other approaches being used to come up with real-time objective measurements.
“At the moment in beef, a human uses their eyes to output an eating quality measurement, but we’d like to deploy a camera to replace the need for a human eye,” Mr Starling said.
“This sort of technology is already being used in the United States, and some Australian processors are trying it out, but it’s only in the early stages.”
The next step is using technology to measure components the human eye can’t, like marbling, and the final step to use MRI or CT technology to measure eating quality across the whole carcase.
This topic will be discussed during the inaugural Woolworths Lambition, at the Australian Sheep & Wool Show, Bendigo, next month.