Report Synopsis

Carcass grading and payment systems to improve the eating quality of UK meat

The current payment and assessment systems used by UK processors, EUROP (beef and lamb) and LM% (pork), do not correlate well with meat quality.

“The current system of carcass classification used in Great Britain is completely outdated and is holding back the development of the industry by failing to adequately communicate consumer demand back to the processors and producers” (Stimulating the introduction of a new method of pig carcass classification, AHDB Strategy Priority 1.2, Year 1 Report)

Red meat animals are produced for consumption and, whilst per-capita consumption of red meat appears relatively stable, the market share of red meat is declining when compared to that of chicken, fish and convenience foods. This suggests that the consumer is not receiving a product with meat quality that meets their expectations: therefore, red meat has room for growth in per-capita consumption by taking some of the market share away from poultry, fish and convenience foods.

It is important that protein farmers focus on the consumer as the customer, not the processor and/or retailer. Without consumer demand the need to produce red meat is reduced and carcass value decreases, making the industry unstable. Countries such as Japan, Korea, Australia and the USA already have grading and payment mechanisms that reward the producer for eating quality. If the UK doesn't start focussing on the consumer acceptance of its red meat, then the demand for UK-produced red meat in the home and global markets will decline in favour of better eating quality (and often cheaper) meat produced abroad.

For industry growth we need to produce red meat that satisfies the expectations of the global consumer to further develop international export of fresh meat, as well as maintain and grow home market share.

Some non-UK pork and beef supply chains have payment and grading systems that assess the potential meat quality of a carcass and reward the producer in correlation to the predicted meat quality. It is posited that the UK red meat industry can improve meat quality, increase consumer acceptability and increase market share by utilising existing technologies and knowledge. By rewarding for premium meat quality, the producer is incentivised to implement improvements for meat quality within their production system. By streaming product within the processing facility based on the predicted meat quality, it's possible to manage quality and consistency; thereby consumer expectations are maintained. This should lead to an increase in red meat consumption and improve consumer satisfaction.

During the Nuffield Farming Scholarship study tour a careful study was made of the UK, France, Germany, America, Japan, Australia, Italy, Ireland and Spain, investigating the mechanisms in place to measure meat quality. The main recommendations are:

  • Meat Standards Australia is the “gold standard” we should be working towards to enable the UK to compete on the global market and this system should be developed in the UK for pork, beef and lamb;
  • The gmSCAN system should be trialled in the UK;
  • The compatibility of robotic cutters with each classification and grading system should be considered.

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