CUTTING-EDGE technology to improve the muscle microstructure and lighten the colour of high-value primal meat cuts is on its way, with the benefits to beef processing likely to run into hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
CSIRO muscle biochemist Joanne Hughes was presented with a Science and Innovation Award at the 2016 Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences Outlook Conference in Canberra last night for her work in the area.
Brisbane-based Ms Hughes is extending her PhD at Griffith University via a project on the mechanism of colour development in early postmortem beef muscle.
She said bringing brighter, redder meat to supermarket shelves had the potential to dramatically improve the value and quality of a carcase.
Dark meat was unfavourable to beef eaters and often associated with consumer rejection, she said.
It can also have a poorer shelf life and more variable eating quality.
That adds up to big losses at each step of the beef supply chain.
“In CSIRO’s recent beef processor industry survey, we found penalties can be as much as $1000 per carcase for dark cutting meat,” Ms Hughes said.
“The survey found 12 per cent of the Australian cattle slaughtered were non-compliant, thus costing the beef industry up to $500 million per annum.”
The techniques Ms Hughes’ work has developed involve high pressure processing (HPP) under low temperatures.
It can extend shelf life, and retain nutrition and flavours in a range of food products, without the use of heat.
Ms Hughes said HPP machines could be expensive, but CSIRO had developed, in collaboration with Greenleaf Enterprises, a cost-benefit model to help processors determine the financial viability of adopting the technology.
“Over the next year, we are testing the technology and will incorporate a path to commercialisation,” she said.
The technology has been heralded as another vital step in the beef industry’s push for consumer-focused supply chains and value-based marketing.
“We are aiming to improve the colour and quality of the meat for the consumer and to ensure meat quality expectations can be met,” Ms Hughes said.
The ABARES awards are a competitive, annual grants programme to support young people aged between 18 and 35 years to undertake a project on an innovative or emerging scientific issue that will contribute to the ongoing success and sustainability of Australia's agricultural, fisheries and forestry industries.
This year, 12 were selected to receive a share of $260,000 in grants.
Ms Hughes’ award was sponsored by the Australian Meat Processor Corporation.
In presenting the awards at a gala dinner as part of ABARES conference, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said: “These are the innovators who will underpin Australia’s ability to meet the growing global demand for high-value, high-quality produce across our primary industries.
“This year’s range of projects include real-time tracking of livestock using high-speed broadband and remote sensors, mapping spring frosts at the farm level to help farmers to protect their crops and using fungi to combat a destructive worm that attacks ginger plants.”
Ms Hughes grew up on a sheep farm in Scotland and has always been passionate about protein biochemistry.
“I find learning about the biology of the muscle and how it impacts on the meat quality really interesting and I also enjoy the fact work in this area can help the beef industry in the process,” she said.
Other award recipients were: Australian Grape and Wine Authority award Jake Dunlevy, SA; Australian Pork Limited award Lauren Hemsworth, VIC; Australian Wool Innovation award Amy Lockwood, WA; Cotton Research and Development Corporation award Yvonne Chang, NSW; CSIRO Health and Biosecurity award Cindy Hauser, VIC; Dairy Australia award Nadeeka Wawegama, VIC; Fisheries Research and Development Corporation award Giana Bastos Gomes, QLD; Grains Research and Development Corporation award Jatin Kala, WA; Meat & Livestock Australia awards Edward Narayan, NSW and Jock Graham, NSW and Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation award Yujuan Li, QLD.
Each year, one grant recipient is also selected to receive the Minister’s Award for an extended research project with additional grant funding.
That went to Giana Bastos Gomes, from James Cook University.
“Giana is working to prevent catastrophic disease outbreaks on aquaculture farms by creating a digital device to identify diseases at the source and avoid a time-consuming wait for samples to be analysed off-site,” Minister Joyce said.
“This would enable farmers to treat their fish before they show signs of infection—it is research that couldn’t be more timely or important to securing our export future and the returns our primary producers receive.”