Call for Aussie meat inspection overhaul

By Oscar Rousseau

- Last updated on GMT

Self-regulated meat inspection is benefiting the few, the Australian Beef Association said
Self-regulated meat inspection is benefiting the few, the Australian Beef Association said

Related tags Australia Beef Processing and packaging Innovation

Australian beef producers risk losing out on profits as a result of biased meat graders, encouraged by big corporations to downgrade carcases and reduce the amount processors pay out.

This is what the Australian Beef Association (ABA) has claimed, with the levy board calling for independent meat graders to be employed at abattoirs to replace the current system of self-regulation.

The way we are set-up in Australia now is that the company employs their own ​[meat] grader,​” said ABA’s executive officer David Byard on Wednesday 1 June. “The grader will do exactly what the company tells him to do. He’s there as an independent policeman, but he’s not really independent – he’s judge, jury and executioner.​”

Meat graders in Australia are predominantly employed by processors to work in abattoirs. They are tasked with examining the dentition (number of teeth) or ossification (bone density) of carcases. Based on a number of differences related to these criteria and also fat depth, a price is determined that the processor pays to the meat producer.

'Not honest'

If the fat depth or other parameters of the carcase are graded incorrectly “it can mean a colossal price difference for producers​”, noted Byard.

When asked if dishonesty in Australian abattoirs was widespread, Byard said he wouldn’t say they were “not honest​”. However, he said there have been many instances over the years where grading hadn’t been up to standards and he said self-regulation was not working.

We need someone independent who is not paid for completely by the processor,”​ said Byard. “[Meat graders are] paid for by the processor now, but we ​[ABA] need to pay for it, as well as, maybe, the MLA ​[Meat & Livestock Australia] to get independent regulation.​”

CCTV called for  

One other idea to improve grading that has been floated by the ABA, among other beef groups, is the introduction of CCTV in all abattoirs – a current hot topic in the UK, which our sister site Meatinfo​ has covered. “It’s a big thing here and we’d like to see it,​” said Byard.

Crucially, the levy board wants to see Australia’s government set up independent graders by law.

The problem with setting this up is that lots of big companies are giving lots of money to the political party,” ​said Byard. “We have incredibly powerful processors in Australia and it’s difficult to get laws passed.​”

He added that he believed there was no way Australia’s biggest meat processors would be behind this move, as they are making “zillions​” through partisan meat graders. “Some processors might agree to it, but I’d imagine that the biggest ones would have absolutely nothing to do with it.​”

JBS Swift is the biggest beef processor in Australia. Its position on installing independent meat graders in abattoirs is unknown and a comment could not be obtained at the time of writing.

Related topics Policy Oceania Food safety Meat

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