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Carcass Valuation Unfair to Producers

There is an old saying: “If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it”. 

However, in the case of Cattle Council…..as a representative of producers, it is shattered beyond repair.  It needs to be replaced altogether.

Cattle Council, the Peak Council for the grassfed cattle producer, was established to manage producers’ cattle industry concerns,  however their failures are costing producers a great deal of money.

For example, when one sells cattle ‘over the hook’ there are a range of issues that can affect the price the producer receives; therefore it is essential that producers are represented by a strong vibrant organisation.

The fiasco of the discounting of the Champion Pen of 6 because of ‘butt shape’ at the Royal Brisbane Show highlights a CCA failure.  Judges classified the cattle as prime stock, but the processors took almost 45c/kg off the kill sheet, using the AUSMEAT classification of ‘butt shape’ as the reason.  There has since been much comment on the use of AUSMEAT categories to discount.  Cattle Council have admitted they have no policy concerning ‘butt shape’ at this stage, and they are due to meet this week on this issue.

While they dither, some processors will continue to misuse the ‘butt shape’ language as an excuse to discount carcasses.    

AUSMEAT has drawn up a list of regulations that control what the producer can be discounted for.  To achieve this AUSMEAT have a Language Committee, made up of different sectors of the beef industry.   They include processors, Cattle Council, Pork Corporation, lamb producers, supermarkets and others. It is suggested that this committee is dominated by processor and supermarket interests, and it is therefore imperative that we have a strong and capable CCA to put the producers’ case on this committee.

Upon contacting Brian Stewart, Chairman of Tasmanian Farmers & Graziers Assocn (TFGA) Meat Council, it appears they do not have a policy on ‘butt shape’ either. (Who gives the TFGA rep on Cattle Council his instructions?)  Ian King and the CEO of AUSMEAT,  says that the ‘language committee’ met last week, but he went on to make a point that the ‘butt shape’ issue was not bought up for discussion.

Why not, after the fiasco that ensued at Brisbane?   

Will Cattle Council meet this week and finally come up with a clear policy for the producer?

Language and rules have been drawn up over many years to govern what happens in the processing works.  These include: fat cover – too much, too little; the age of beast; how much trim is removed before weighing the body; and the infamous ‘butt shape’, which is one of many ways that producers can be discounted.

The umpire in all this is the company grader, who is an employee of the processing works where he grades carcasses. That grader is audited by AUSMEAT.   To me that grader is not an independent umpire and depends on the processing works for his ongoing employment and prospects. The grader has considerable power and could make a huge difference as to what the producer receives for his carcasses. It seems a lot of processors have different ways of interpreting rules and vary in the way they approach discounts.

The ‘butt shape’ issue has created much interest, and now we can see some well-known and respected  researchers who have written papers saying that butt shape has very little or no significance in the yield of a carcass.

Discounts on ‘butt shape’ can be quite expensive.  Take a 300kg EU carcass, discounted $.50/ kg or $150.  Over 100 carcasses that is $15,000 – not a bad return for meat that will go into the same box as others at the same price and not affect the yield!

When one sells a beast to the processor one is paid on the amount of teeth that beast has. Why should cattle be assessed on teeth rather than ossification, which of course, is how the meat from those carcasses is sold?

Effectively what happens is meat is bought based on one classification, and then sold based on another classification. If a carcass is assessed and paid for based on the number of teeth it has, it will be discounted accordingly.  But that discounted carcass is often re-assessed under MSA ‘ossification guidelines’ and that meat sadly becomes a premium product, despite the fact producer has been paid as a lower standard product.

If I were to sell a cow for $2.40/kg and it gets through MSA grading, particularly if it makes boning group 1-10,  it can then go to a major supermarket to sell as a premium MSA product!  This makes it a much higher price received by the processor and the supermarket than the cattleman got for his cow meat!   The difference between a $2.40 carcass that is re-assessed to a premium $3.60 MSA carcass is an enormous amount of money.  

How can we fix these variations in how meat is bought and sold, graded and branded? 

Perhaps a first step may be to overhaul the AUSMEAT language, and ensure that meat off a discounted carcass is still discounted when it reaches the consumer.  Perhaps the practice of informing processors well before any auditor arrives at the processing works should be reviewed, to become regular audits and unannounced visits!

Until producers get organised, demand that Cattle Council does a better job of managing the producers’ business rules, and until we have a full enquiry into the way AUSMEAT operates, plus the language that they use, then we can just expect more of the same.

It IS broke, so let’s fix it!

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