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MSA Debate


Once again I agree is that the one thing Richard Norton and I agree upon is healthy debate around the beef industry, its issues, and its important future.

One, I agree with him when he reminds everyone about MSA, that it is important to acknowledge that MSA is described as a voluntary eating description program, and it is not a brand of beef.
However, it needs to be said that when producers deliver their cattle to the works, they will automatically, without question be graded and paid on that grading result. So it is not voluntary from the producers’ end.
There are a number of factors within that ‘grading’ that guarantees the cattleman nothing, mainly which the cattle have met the MSA program, but to go on to fail ‘Company specs”. So MSA loses its value as a grading program thanks to the individual abattoirs specifications

Two, Richard Norton says: “The outcomes of MSA have always been, and still remains 3, 4 and 5 Star”.
We diverge in our thinking here. The fact is that there is a vast variation between the 3, 4 and 5 Star quality of graded meat – from superb to very ordinary.
There are several reasons for this, the main one being that these Stars are not marked on the packs of meat – they just have the words MSA stamped on the packets. I’ve never seen 3, 4 and 5 Star marked in the supermarket cabinets, or any other retailer’s cabinet. There is only the word “MSA” – so it could be any grade!
Then a lot of beef might not immediately be suitable to pass as MSA grade, as it needs to be left for a certain number of days in its cryovac pack – it is marked on the carton. However certain retailers ignore this and put the meat out for immediate sale, and there is no auditing to make sure that the meat is cryovaced for the correct time.

Three: Richard quotes “It is not for MLA to tell retailers how to market beef but the MLA have made star rating logos available to retailers. If retailers want to use it, they may.”
In reality, the simple fact is a retailer can have rolls and rolls of MSA stickers which they can choose to put on whatever meat they please, whether it is MSA or not. So this means that it is a voluntary system for the retailer (open a bag and put the stickers on, with no auditing or controls = voluntary).

Some years ago, I was involved in a retail outlet. In 2000 I attended an MSA course which was mandatory for retailers wanting to use MSA, and in those days regular audits took place.
This year, at a taste testing cook-off in Launceston, to make my point I took MLA staff to a wholesaler were I purchased a full MSA porterhouse which had no fat cover, only slime.
I paid for that Porterhouse, for MLA staff to take and have it sliced and cooked for the taste test. At the meat tasting, all the samples were of good quality. Later I went to the kitchen to retrieve the rest of my porterhouse, but it had disappeared.
When first launched all MSA product was capable of being traced through DNA testing. Another element of MSA that no longer exists! I would love to have a DNA test done on the samples presented, and prove which the piece of meat I’d purchased was.

Four: Mr Norton stated ‘Rigorous consumer survey of thousands of respondents, beef was rated the highest consistent quality of all protein, and rated above other proteins for consistency.
The fact is that Lamb, once it has 2 teeth is mutton; chickens are grown and processed in a number of weeks; salmon is very similar; however beef can go from no permanent teeth through to its teeth falling out, and can still be graded and the meat off that animal can be sold as an MSA product! Boasting about the increase in number of cattle graded these days’ fails to acknowledge all cattle are not good quality animals.

Five, Norton says about MSA, that despite it being a voluntary industry system, its adoption has experienced considerable growth over the last five years.
When you water down the rules governing any system, you immediately make it easier for all types of meat to be ‘branded as MSA’.
Within the system there are pretty tight rules on the cattleman, but very loose requirements on the retailers and processors. The simple fact is you can’t have consistency within a system with ‘voluntary’ rules, and processors and retailers can choose how to categorise the meat. With voluntary rules governing society we would all end up in chaos just the same as MSA has.
And finally: Richard says ‘MLA’s marketing campaign, and post campaign surveys results for the first 12 months have shown an increase per week consumption of beef in the target audience’.

Admittedly I’ve got no idea of the target audience; however ABS figures suggest that we have lost over 3 kg of beef per person in the last financial year! This is despite MLA announcing some months ago that it had stopped the slide of consumption, the first country in the Western world to do so!
Richard follows up by saying ‘MLA feels sure that their marketing programs will continue to encourage consumers to actively seek beef out because of its consistency high-quality’.

The simple fact is voluntary system do not work especially where money is involved, and where there are clear mandatory rules exist for producers while voluntary rules exist for processors and retailers. The MLA has spent hundred millions of dollars on the system, and it was a great system and still could be a great system once again if we went back to the original rules.
The problem in the beef industry is we have people making too much money and being able to purchase an inferior product at a discount price then on sell as a top-class product at a premium price. Until we address this fact we will continue to lose ground in our most valuable domestic market.

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