by Gwyn Howells HCC chief executive
TECHNOLOGY has moved on in leaps and bounds in recent years, particularly in industries which serve everdemanding consumers who expect to receive products of a consistently high quality. Food is no exception. Yet the current carcase classification system, based on the EUROP grid, depends on the subjective view of the inspector who assesses the fat cover and conformation of the carcase.
As a result the current payment system is based on a combination of weight, conformation and fat class. Since assessment is subjective, there is a possibility that standards can vary from one processing plant to another.
There can even be differences of opinion between inspectors in the same plant. This can lead to inconsistent grading, resulting in variations in the price paid to farmers. This is a problem that has been recognised by representatives of the Welsh red meat industry who came together during a meeting at HCC’s Aberystwyth headquarters to discuss ways to improve the situation.
The meeting attracted attendance from right across the supply chain with representatives from the farming, processing and retail sectors as well as the Welsh Government, all expressing their desire for change and to explore new technological solutions. Following detailed talks, the 30-strong group unanimously agreed that in order to incentivise producers and the wider supply chain, a collective approach is required by all parties to explore automated carcase evaluation.
The group was united in the view that a collaborative industry approach was needed towards moving to a payment system based on objectivity and meat yield. HCC chairman Dai Davies said he was greatly encouraged by the fact that producers, processors and retailers all agreed that action must be taken.
“I felt heartened by the fact that there was unanimous agreement during the meeting that moving towards an automated system was the right thing to do,” he added. “It is particularly pleasing that this is a problem that has been identified by those who work in the industry, and that they are willing to explore ways to find a 21st century solution.
“If the Welsh red meat industry is to have a sustainable long term and profitable future then we must take the lead and ensure that we use the latest technology to provide a different basis on which to pay producers as well as a consistently high quality product for our consumers. “A number of key areas for consideration were identified, but the main conclusion was the need for a collaborative industry approach towards moving to an automated objective assessment process and a payment system based on meat yield.”
Mr Davies said, however, that this was only the first step in a process that could take some time to achieve. “The next step will be for a newly formed subgroup to take forward the initial discussions and potential concepts with the Welsh Government and other funding bodies,” he said.
Potential long-term actions may include a need to identify new automated technologies and alter the current systems; develop a system that can work in tandem with the proposed new process until it is fully established; and educating producers and consumers on the appearance and fat content of red meat.
“Whilst we will need to be realistic about the timescales needed to develop a fair and objective system, the ideas discussed during the meeting were very exciting and could lead to huge benefits for red meat producers in Wales,” said Mr Davies. A further meeting involving all the participants is scheduled for this month to move the process forward.