The weight of expectations and the size of “bloody big” cattle have made the push to adopt DEXA scanning in Australia’s beef industry a tricky endeavour.
Bringing the technology online has not been without hiccups, but industry backers remain confident DEXA is on track to deliver its eagerly-anticipated benefits.
DEXA - or dual energy X-ray absorptiometry - is a scanning tool designed to give better measurements of meat, fat and bone on a carcase.
Trials were officially launched at Teys Australia's beef processing facility in Lakes Creek, Rockhampton, earlier this year but this information needs to be calibrated with a medical-grade CT scanner before it can be used.
Meat and Livestock Australia R&D general manager Sean Starling said the size of cattle created a major headache during the calibration phase.
"Lamb carcases are small and not that hard to transport," he said.
"When you do beef, it's a completely different story. It's bloody big and there is a lot of handling needed to cut that meat up and get it through the CT scanner."
To calibrate DEXA technology in the lamb industry, about 600 carcases were trucked to Western Australia's Murdoch University for CT scans, Mr Starling said.
CT scans generate a measurement standard allowing DEXA machines to be tweaked and primed for best performance.
Shipping cattle carcases from Rockhampton to Western Australia was obviously not an option, Mr Starling said.
"To get around that, what the industry is doing is building a portable medical CT scanner.
"Once that's finished we will truck it to Lakes Creek and begin the calibration process with Teys."
Once the portable CT scanner was completed, it could be used to calibrate other DEXA machines across the country, Mr Starling said.
Concerns about DEXA have centred on whether it would drive a focus on lean meat yields at the expense of eating quality, but Mr Starling said this had not been overlooked.
"We are building machines at the moment that can measure eating quality, we hope.
"We started that journey about two and a half years ago, and we've probably got another at least two years before we know whether we will get these advanced quality measurements out to industry."
Industry warming up to measurement tools
According to a recent study, Australia’s red meat processors are generally optimistic about picking-up new measurement technologies.
Earlier this year researchers from the NSW Department of Primary Industries published a study looking at the attitudes of beef and lamb processors towards new and sophisticated measurement tools.
"In the past, the adoption of online measurement technologies for measuring carcase and meat quality traits objectively has been low among Australian red meat processors," the researchers wrote.
The study found 88 per cent of respondents thought objective measurement tools had a role in the future.
"The development and adoption of objective online measurement technologies is challenging and complex," the researchers wrote.
"However, increased adoption of online measurement technologies has the potential to achieve benefits to the whole of industry and needs continued support, coupled with new approaches to enhance adoption."
Researcher Edwina Toohey said it was heartening to see industry attitudes changing.
“We are heading in the right direction,” she said.
“We want pull-through from the industry. We don't want to be pushing something on them that they don't need or want.”
This was a message echoed by Meat and Livestock Australia, with Mr Starling stressing the need to show the benefits of technology.
"Rather than a big sell, we need to let everyone know what's in it for them and why they should support it.
"What DEXA and other technology can do is enable those who are in a sweet spot already to demand a premium, and those that aren't in the sweet spot can work out how to adapt."