UNDERSTANDING how production decisions impact eating quality and what drives compliance with Australia’s eating quality grading system Meat Standards Australia (MSA) can deliver big returns at the farm gate.
MSA young cattle commanded a 23 cent per kilogram price difference over their non-MSA equivalent in the last financial year.
That equates to around $65 a head.
MSA grainfed cattle commanded an extra $34 a head.
The latest beef eating quality audit released by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) shows a whopping 2.8m head of cattle were graded in the last financial year through 42 MSA licenced processors.
The largest volume came from Queensland, which represents 42 per cent of all MSA-graded cattle from 2015 until now.
Once a producer is registered with the program, which does not involve a cost, they are eligible to consign MSA cattle.
MSA program manager at MLA Sarah Strachan said the on farm requirements were really best practice.
“We encourage producers to understand what their buyer is looking for,” she said.
“MSA are the minimum requirements and then different programs have their own company specifications, reflective of their customer’s requirements.”
Processors pay a license fee to be a part of the program, for training of graders and for their audits, which are conducted by Ausmeat.
Around 30 new MSA graders are trained each year.
MSA doesn’t audit on farm but provides recommendations and training programs, focussed on minimising stress.
“The impact of farm practices that aren’t right is clear in feedback from grading, with carcase compliance being impacted,” Ms Strachan said.
“The end result tells the story and we find there is a lot of self correction in improving management practices that then improve specification compliance.”
Every carcase graded gets these measurements taken: carcase weight, milk fed vealer status, consignment pathway (direct or saleyard), hormone growth promotant status, carcase hang method, tropical breed content, hump height, ossification, MSA marbling, Ausmeat marbling, meat colour, fat colour, ribfat coverage, eye muscle area, pH, temperature and carcase fat distribution.
The pre-slaughter requirement is cattle need to stay on the property for at least 30 days before and be processed within 48 hours of leaving the farm.
Recommendations include not mixing unfamiliar cattle for at least two weeks prior to transport, which is a proven stress and ensuring an increasing plane of nutrition for 30 days prior.
Whilst 18 different measurements are collected on every carcase to predict eating quality, the main requirements to ensure MSA compliance are recording a meat pH below 5.71 and a minimum rib fat coverage of 3mm with adequate fat coverage across the entire carcase.
Ms Strachan explained eating quality becomes far more variable after pH 5.71.
“With high pH meat you get into an area where bacteria can still operate so spoilage can occur and it cooks inconsistently” she said.
“When cattle fail to meet the pH requirement, it really limits what a processor can do with the product. Ensuring carcase pH is below 5.71 ensures consumers have a great experience every time.”
Fat, meanwhile, is a contributor to juiciness and flavour but fat coverage is also about protecting a carcase through processing.
Adequate coverage prevents the muscle toughening process if the carcase gets too cold too quickly, which ruins eating quality.
The meat colour requirement was removed in mid 2017.
“The latest research showed when pH was acceptable consumers weren’t discriminating between meat colours at presentation level and it wasn’t impacting on eating quality,” Ms Strachan said.
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