David Byard, the executive officer of the Australian Beef Association (ASA), has roundly criticised the “watered down” practices of Meat Standards Australia (MSA) and has called for urgent changes to fix the system.
MSA was established in 1999 against a background of falling beef consumption in Australia. Since its inception, the agency has received AUD$500m in funding from the country’s red meat levy board, Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA). When the agency was set up, the MLA’s meat industry strategy plan said it would deliver a AUD$1.2bn payout to the Australian beef industry annually by 2010. Byard estimates the system could actually have cost the red meat industry a similar amount.
“It should be stated that it (MSA) is the greatest [meat grading] system ever going, but it’s not working,” said Byard on Thursday 9 June.
When the system was established 17 years ago, meat grading went through DNA testing with independent analysts employed to assess the meat. These core foundations for safeguarding meat quality have been “watered down” leaving the back door open for “substitutions” to flood the market, noted Byard.
“The system has gone against [beef] producers… the problem is it’s run by processors for the benefit of processors.”
Byard suggested the best way to fix the system is to go back to the meat grading system used pre-MSA. This would include increased onus on DNA testing to verify meat quality, as well as the employment of independent meat graders at abattoirs.
The latter point is one Australian beef producers have raised repeatedly. Last week, GlobalMeatNews reported that beef producers risked losing out on profits as biased meat graders may be influenced by powerful processors to downgrade carcasses and reduce the fee producers receive.
So, is change to the system likely? Byard said important figures behind the scenes believe something needs to happen. “There are a good many people out there who believe the system has been watered down to such an extent that it’s just not working.
“The producers and the red meat industry will be behind the changes, but I doubt if the processors – who make a lot of money from the current scheme – will be too thrilled by any changes.”
A comment from Meat Standards Australia could not be obtained at the time of writing.