FIFTEEN months after the Australian Beef Language White Paper review was presented to industry, the peak councils that originally initiated the study have finally considered the report and reached some consensus as to how to progress the raft of issues contained in the Paper’s 46 recommendations.
Conceived in 2014 when drought and disproportionately low cattle prices prevailed, the review had the misfortune of being presented to industry in January 2016 at a time of unrivalled price recovery so perhaps it is understandable that the whole matter seemed to lose urgency and fall from consciousness for the better part of the year. After all, whole organisations born in desperate times have been known to disappear once financial wellbeing returned.
But to let the matter gather dust indefinitely would have been a travesty considering the underlying importance of many of the issues and the extent of the work that went into preparation of the White Paper.
Twelve months of public submissions, in-depth review for preparation of 13 background technical papers, preparation of a working consultation paper, extensive industry consultation and deliberation all preceded the ultimate presentation of the final draft report to industry.
The peak councils have agreed to some of the recommendations, supported others on a voluntary basis, deferred a good many for further investigation and rejected others.
To look at these in more detail it is probably best to consider the original seven theme groupings from the White Paper.
1. FROM CARCASE TO A WHOLE-OF-CHAIN LANGUAGE
The four recommendations under this heading are essentially motherhood statements outlining a conception-to-consumption approach to information transfer.
They talk about use of common terminology wherever possible, individual traits defined in ‘outcome’ terms and use of accuracy indicators with alternate measurement technologies.
Industry has signalled agreement with this approach.
2. TRANSITION TO AN OUTCOMES BASED LANGUAGE
Some of the issues listed here were of prominent concern to producers at the time the White Paper review was sought.
- Change beef cipher ‘A’ to ‘ANY’ was not supported but there remains a willingness to work through the issue to find an alternative solution.
- Change existing category of Bull ‘B’ from primary to alternative category will be explored further through a cost benefit analysis of future MSA grading opportunity for bulls.
- Change to the definition of Bull was deferred for further consideration.
- Establishment of a new cipher EQG to identify beef and veal that has been MSA graded was supported for use on a voluntary basis.
- Adding MSA cooking style descriptions to the Handbook of Australian Meat (HAM) without cut descriptions was not supported as it is considered that cut name remains of vital importance.
- Promoting the MSA EQ matrix as a primary retail product description was supported on a voluntary basis.
- Introduction of a voluntary verified animal age system (chronological or ossification) as an alternative to dentition was not supported.
- All cattle to be eligible for MSA grading was supported and identified for progression through the MSA Beef Taskforce.
- Change to eligibility for grain-fed ciphers was not supported.
- Adoption of UNECE production and feeding system description codes was not supported.
- Establishment of a lean meat yield descriptor was supported and identified for progression through the Objective Measurement Rural R&D for Profit program.
- Proposed EQG cipher to apply to veal carcasses pending appropriate eating-quality research was supported and referred to MSA Beef Taskforce.
3. ONGOING DEVELOPMENT OF INDUSTRY STANDARDS
Recommendations under this theme relate to development of standards that define ‘raising’ or ‘provenance’ claims used by brand owners and the harmonisation of third-party auditing.
Support was indicated with referral for progression and/or further work to AMILSC and various other committees.
4. ALIGNMENT OF LIVE ANIMAL AND CARCASE LANGUAGES
The principal recommendation here was to form yet another expert group to review and align livestock descriptors with the AUS-MEAT carcase language.
Industry supported the recommendation and tasked MLA to coordinate the commencement of the working group.
More specific recommendations around muscle, fat, condition and frame scores were not supported in current form.
5. OBJECTIVE MEASUREMENT AND SYSTEM INTEGRITY
In general terms the proposal under this theme is for progression to objective measurement in live animal, carcass and cut descriptions when cost effective under commercial conditions.
Support was indicated with the expected caveat of proven capability and accuracy of any objective measurement devices.
Other more specific recommendations:
- In the interim develop a value based framework by allowing carcass yield traits to be defined by muscle and fat scores provided by independent graders. This was rejected.
- Move to a single marbling standard was not immediately supported but referred to MLA for further review.
- Development of a fineness standard for marbling was similarly referred.
- Refinement of meat colour chips was supported and referred to MLA for follow up.
- Statistical monitoring of MSA grading to help maintain grader accuracy was supported.
- Further R&D to relate carcass colour measures with consumer appeal was supported.
- Recommendation to tighten the performance measures of AUS-MEAT’S training tool OSCAP was not supported.
- Continued R&D to identify improved objective measurement technologies was supported.
- Prioritisation of better communication and education was supported.
6. DATA CAPTURE FOR SEAMLESS INFORMATION FLOW
Recommendations here stem from current and future demand for readily accessible information up and down the value chain.
Specific issues include the ability to attach individual animal records to mob-based NVD declarations and the question of PIC numbers relating to properties in some states and a person or business entity in others. The ability to locate both or either for traceback purposes was seen as important.
Industry supported these recommendations but felt more work was needed before it could support a tie in through the GS1 system (which controls global bar code and Q code systems) for potential global connectivity.
7. GLOBAL BEEF DESCRIPTIONS
Final recommendations to adopt UNECE Bovine Language coding in order to facilitate integration with EAN-UCC standard systems were not immediately supported and referred for further work.