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What has Happened to MSA

Recently at MLA forums there has been interesting comments over MSA.

One that caught my eye is that MSA is a quality assurance program not a grading system for consumers, and should be there only to underpin brands.

Back in 1998 MSA grading business plan talks about the viability and cost benefits of the MSA grading system. Which involved stars 3, 4 and 5, all-stars actually gave a scientific indicator of what consumers could expect from an MSA product, 3 was very much the base grade and five being the top class product.  Now in 2015 what we see is MSA stars 3, 4 and 5 have simply disappeared.

Slaughter day after dispatch, direct consignment to abattoir (not saleyards), and no females that have calved.

A survey of both supermarkets and food service sector found that the vast majority of consumers were very satisfied with the MSA meat they have consumed.

Plan stated that MSA carcass grading outperformed USDA grading?? I really wonder whether that would still be the case as it seems to me that the foundations of the original MSA grading system have gone. DNA testing gone, 3, 4 and 5 stars gone, MLA graders gone, cows that have calved are graded along with aged cows, DNA testing gone, the list goes on which all goes to make a toxic mixture of a watered down system. In the US they still have independent government graders doing the grading, in contrast to Australia where we have let company employees do the grading for the people that employ them. (Hardly an independent umpire).

All sectors of the industry in 1998 were facing severe financial difficulties.

The real price of cattle, on a long-term trend, had declined 2% per year.

Suggested solutions in 1998

  • Enhance consumers’ confidence in beef
  • Improve returns to all sectors
  • Reverse consumer dissatisfaction with beef
  • For beef industry to remain viable the rate of decline in per capita consumption must be arrested and this will require a real increase in beef demand.
  • Per capita consumption was falling, with a long term trend decline 1.7% per year.

The fact is since MSA was brought in 1998, consumption of beef has continued down the same path with the same sort of decline.

Now in 2015 we have seen many producers forced out through low unstainable prices, whilst processors and retailers have creamed huge profits at producers’ expense. Whilst prices have lifted it is too late for many.

The MSA business plan called for a whole market grading system to stop the lucky dip inconsistency which has been such a problem in the meat industry for too many years.

The MSA business plan forecast. Higher domestic consumption ,better prices for producers, all these solutions have clearly failed and when one buys steak one could expect to buy a product that is very variable whether it is marked as MSA or not. Steak can be harvested very young to very old and all sorts of breeds bred for all sorts of purposes and consumers have no idea about eating quality.

MSA has clearly failed; the proof is in the eating and its own business plan.

Solution: revisit the business plan of 1998.

Introduce independent graders into all plants for all grading of MSA and all other beef. (Under the present system we see the Fox clearly in charge of the henhouse)

Any costs over and above the cost of employing a grader by a company could be made up by MLA or AusMeat.

All graders could be employed by AusMeat, or a similar body, and graders report to them and are responsible for that body.

This would ensure that we had independent graders not beholden to processors who actually pay their wages and rely on that company for their future employment.

MSA’s very nature is complicated and consumers have little idea of what it all means.

If MSA rules were the same as in 1998, and we had labels gold, silver and bronze to take place of stars 3, 4and 5, this would give a good indicator to consumers of eating quality. After this we could find consumers getting more confidence in beef which may result in more beef being sold.

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