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Are Producers Getting A Fair Deal?

Last week we wrote about Murray Bridge and AUS MEAT Ltd – an industry owned company operated as a joint-venture between MLA and the Australian Meat Processors Corporation (AMPC).

The foundation objective of AUS MEAT was to manage industry quality standards in an integrated manner. In doing so each industry sector was to be effectively linked ensuring a guaranteed two way flow of information and the objective of each standard properly focused. Great… in theory.

However, in practice it seems to me that AusMeat are the policeman, judge, jury and executioner all wrapped into one powerful body that a producer would find very hard to appeal against with no apparent oversight body.

Over recent years producers have been very critical of AusMeat and this has led to the issue being raised with AusMeat by Cattle Council of Australia.

In turn this has seen a committee of experts formed to write a white paper on the future of Australian beef language. Part of the brief was mandatory consultation with a broad cross section of industry participants including companies involved in food service, retail, wholesale, export, manufacturing, processing, production, education policy and regulation.

One of the current contentious language descriptors used for assessment is butt shape as a determinant of carcass quantity and quality and therefore pricing/discounting.  Many in the industry would contend that such an examination was subjective as it was based on the visual silhouette of the beef carcass. A large body of research has concluded that a more convex butt shape is not related to improved carcass yield. One can only wonder why this sort of descriptor has been continued to be included in AusMeat endorsed language with no scientific support, for so long.  Could it be that this has become just another discount tool?

Another contentious inclusion is the utilisation of the P8 site for the purpose of measuring fat score due to the premise that it suffered less damage during hide pulling than the 12/13th rib site. It is noteworthy that Australia is the only country that uses the P8 site, with most using fat measurements at the site of quartering or the whole fat distribution of a carcass. According to AusMeat regular analysis of data should be undertaken to help identify and rectify those graders who consistently give high or low fat score depths. Advanced carcass fat measurement standards by AUS MEAT, ACFM program.

ACFM certified staff must be employed at any AusMeat processing plant. Any enterprise must employ a number of current certified persons which, in AUSMEAT’s opinion, is required to measure carcass fat and monitor carcasses that measurements that are audited on an ongoing basis. The identification number of each ACFM certified measurer is recorded in the enterprise quality system. Identification numbers will be issued by AUSMEAT to those persons successfully completing the ACFM examination. To remain certified persons must be updated by AUSMEAT on an annual basis.

To me the theory is great. However, we have the people doing all the measurements employed by companies and audited by another company that has strong ties to processors. This is asking for trouble as self-regulation never works when money is involved.

My understanding is the White Paper will be assessed by the AusMeat language and audit committee. The makeup of this committee is very curious –  4 processors, 1 supermarket rep, 1 feedlot industry rep, 1each goat, lamb, beef and even a pork producer.  Beef producers pay a huge slice of AusMeat’s upkeep and have very little input into how AusMeat is run. One can only wonder at how a beef producer could get reform, when the processors have such a huge advantage. Though I’m not a card player I suspect the deck may be stacked. Why is the White Paper for potential change in language being assessed by a group that is responsible for the current language and has not been self-correcting and modifying on their own initiative in the past? Are they capable of objectivity and therefore full and frank assessment of submissions and recommendations in order to produce language they will then have to ensure is integrated into all levels of the red meat industry?

Surely the time has come for the beef industry to employ and audit graders whilst at the same time having an appeal outlet for problems.

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