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background paper

Date: Jan 2018

Author: Dr Rod Polkinghorne OAM



The viability of the Red meat industry is intrinsically linked to the understanding and application of Meat Science. The Australian industry has high operating costs by global benchmarks. It is therefore imperative for the industry to create additional value through ongoing innovation in product and process to deliver consumer value.

The challenges are considerable, but exciting, and must be embraced with vigour to deliver an improved and sustainable future. The biological foundation of the product dictates that Meat Science is fundamental to the process and provides the Meat Science community the challenge to deliver the necessary knowledge for Industry to innovate.

Over time there have been a number of transformative technologies, underpinned by meat science and engineering application, that have fundamentally changed the red meat industry. These have included: refrigeration with the associated ability to ship product with extended shelf life over long distances creating global trade between the UK, South America and Australia; standardized carcase and cut description systems arising from market changes to enable remote trading of product unseen by the buyer and underpinned by audit and certification systems; vacuum packaging which facilitated distribution and export of chilled meat and trading of individual cuts, often to different markets from the one carcase and leading increasingly to combined slaughter and boning establishments supplying cuts to butchers rather than carcasses. (Case ready packaging systems may be viewed as a more recent development driving significant change in centralized packing and distribution arrangements).

What are the next transformative technologies and science required to enable application and adoption?

Which exist now but are at the early adoption stage requiring meat science and commercial input to realize their potential?

What are the blue sky opportunities yet to be fully articulated?

The AMPC has instigated and participated in major strategic planning activities to develop a clear strategic vision to ensure a sustainable industry and address identified threats. These encompass whole of industry collaboration and AMPC specific studies. These include the Australian Meat Industry Strategic Plan MISP 2020:

From these reports critical areas identified for Meat Science related actions include enhanced consumer understanding and interaction to provide improved value, improved supply chain collaboration, active development of a strategic innovation culture and global partnerships.

Your views and insights are sought and valued in gaining a broad perspective on where challenges and opportunity may lie and in formulating a coordinated and collaborative strategy. By taking a global view the project aims to obtain diverse views arising from a wide range of local situations, to understand what has worked, what hasn’t and why and to develop a structure that facilitates collaboration and mutual red meat industry advancement.

To stimulate discussion some background and identified issues that affect the Australian red meat industry are briefly outlined below. We encourage your input not to be restricted to these issues as new insights (both challenges and opportunities) or alternative positions are welcome.


Consumer Relationships and Product Value

As the sole source of industry revenue the ultimate consumer is of critical importance. The industry must understand the consumer in both local and global contexts, address issues of concern and provide a high value product that effectively competes with far lower cost competitive protein sources. Health and diet, declining consumption in developed countries, the percentage of beef and lamb consumption growth in developing markets and community interest in animal welfare and environmental issues have been identified as areas of significance.


Health and Well-being

The positioning of red meat as a preferred component in a healthy diet is a core issue. While not new it follows several decades of consistent industry attack from advocates who promote reducing or eliminating red meat consumption. Only recently has the wisdom of animal fats being a major dietary hazard been challenged successfully. What research is required to provide evidence of red meat health benefits? Where are the priority areas?Which negative issues are legitimate and may be addressed by research? Are there structures that can facilitate international collaboration in both research and dissemination of outcomes?


Animal Welfare

Community expectations are legitimately high for animal welfare standards. Industry recognises the relationship between a social licence to operate and animal welfare standards but there are also broader benefits in increased profitability through animal temperament and stress relationships to production efficiency, animal and human safety and, potentially, eating quality. Where can Meat Science improve welfare outcomes, community perceptions and profitability through improved performance? What practical stress indicators can be developed for on farm and abattoir use? Can FLIR, retinal scanning or other technologies improve management?


Improved and Simplified Product Description

The expected result from most consumer goods is clear however the red meat consumer is often confronted with a confusing array of terms, cut names and claims from which they are expected to estimate a cooked meal outcome.


The AMPC strategic plan and MISP findings recognize that pricing pressures may put new product development and innovation at risk. Responses listed to mitigate price sensitivity include significant product differentiation through different grades of eating quality, packaging, product branding and service.


Most industry grading and description systems apply a common description to a carcase as a whole. These typically describe appearance (butt shape, muscle score, fat depth), sex, weight and age/maturity/dentition. Post slaughter descriptions based on observation of the loin surface at the quartering point include marbling, meat and fat colour and pH. The observed data is often utilised to create quality and yield grades applied at carcase level. None of these measures provide effective or simple description of a meal which is the critical consumer need.


The Australian Meat Standards Australia (MSA) system has further developed the use of carcase based inputs to create individual muscle eating quality estimates utilizing untrained consumer evaluation as the primary measure. A change toward consumer based quality description of individual meal portions is seen by many as a fundamental driver of industry change. Further background reading is provided in the Australian Industry White Paper ( her research approaches may be useful to improve the ability to accurately estimate consumer satisfaction levels and enable related description and pricing systems?What technical developments may facilitate objective estimates?


Technological Developments

The AMPC strategic plan acknowledges that the Australian industry operates under higher cost structures than competitors due to labor rates and regulatory imposts. To be internationally competitive it must aggressively innovate to justify higher pricing through superior product, and to must be implemented in concert with sound Meat Science imperatives to ensure product integrity is maintained.  

How should Meat Science, Engineering and Software disciplines be coordinated to encourage integration and facilitate practical commercial application?

Current areas of technological development initiatives are briefly discussed below.


Improved accuracy of carcase and muscle yield estimation & measurement

Traditional yield descriptors such as butt shape, external fat point measures, sex and dentition have known serious limitations. More sophisticated estimates as used in USDA and Japanese yield grades and in EUROP classification are superior but still only moderate in accuracy across populations. Individual cut identification and actual weight also offers a solution but requires technology that can operate at sufficient throughput.


Application of technology offers scope for substantial improvement with CT scanning regarded as the gold standard. DEXA has a current measure of acceptance in lamb processing and is at early evaluation stage for beef. Vision systems have been adopted for yield measures in some countries with RGBD camera technologies also being evaluated in live animal and carcase applications. What other technologies are on the horizon? How can meat science support development and application? How do we integrate the engineers and software developers with Meat Science to optimize industry efficiency and consumer product value?


Man Versus Machine

Evaluation systems are rapidly evolving with increased sophistication in many instances associated with greater affordability where broader technologies such as those used in smartphones can be adapted for industry use. Further sophisticated technologies and robotics utilised in medicine, security, military and other areas may potentially be adapted for meat industry use. Camera and image analysis systems are currently in use for some traits such as marbling and rib fat depth and are promising greater potential as are a range of tools relying on spectra including NIR, Hyperspectral and Ramon. How do meat scientist’s best engage and collaborate with the engineers? Are there smarter ways to interact with medical or other research developments?


Processing developments to improve yield, shelf life and eating quality

Processing systems can significantly impact yield, shelf life and eating quality with stunning, bleeding, carcase suspension, chilling, packaging and ageing all being critical and often inter-related. Chilling regimes vary widely including the use of spray chilling and various combinations of temperature, time, air flow and velocity. Research recommendations have differed in defining chill time (for example 10 hrs at 10 degrees followed by deep chilling or, at the other extreme very fast chilling) and in defining a temperature and pH relationship irrespective of time. Previous research work has speculated on systems that may hot bone and differentially chill primals with more recent but limited application of other technologies to stretch, shape or prevent muscle shortening. Which technologies have the most potential? What research gaps exist to fully understand the mechanisms? What “blue sky” approaches are on the horizon?


Value-Adding Technology to Improve Consumer Value

Significant innovation is anticipated in value adding red meat as transferring the raw commodity into refined consumer meals offers greater value to the industry. Growing consumer concern over additives and a desire for “clean and green natural product” profiles presents challenges. Currently many value added processes are applied more extensively in pig and poultry processing and smallgoods but are rapidly expanding in red meat. Is the fundamental biology sufficiently understood to harness evolving processes? Can multiple levels of raw material quality be managed to produce a common outcome? Is there a balance between yield enhancement and consumer acceptance? What research is required to fully understand and interpret work to date?


Supply Chain Integration and Collaboration

Improved supply chain integration is seen as an essential basis for industry sustainability and reduced price fluctuation. In contrast to red meat sectors competing poultry and pig industries are characterized by vertical integration with commensurate communication, research and production linkage driving continuous improvement across production sectors. Direct consumer value signals being transferred throughout the supply chain is recognized as a prerequisite to increase productivity and driver of improved performance.


Value Assessment and Communication in Trading Systems

Accurate value based trading systems across the supply chain offer the potential to transform industry efficiency. When accurately measured highly significant differences arise from both yield and quality variation across the carcase, both of which are poorly measured, reported and priced under most current systems. While the industry trades on averages the value range in cattle and carcase groups is masked. Current advances and research effort are aimed at providing the ability to accurately reflect value at each transaction point and to provide a genuine reflection of final consumer value from retail counter or restaurant menu to the value adding, processing, finishing, back-grounding and breeding segments. It can be argued that the continual long term productivity gains in industries such as dairy, pig and poultry reflect the accuracy of measurement and direct pricing linkage to products or components. What is needed from the meat science community to facilitate understanding of value drivers, accuracy and methodology of calculation and the cultural change that may be needed? Do meat scientists have a role in championing systemic change? What are the research needs to assist the process?


Genomics Application Throughout the Supply Chain

The AMPC strategic plan clearly identifies that farm suppliers must be profitable to ensure a sustainable industry. Overall industry profitability and stability is related to supply chain integration or collaboration. The processor role in providing accurate price signals and data to enable and encourage on farm adaption of genetic and management strategies for mutual benefit is acknowledged with funding encouraged for research that encompasses multiple supply chain sectors.


As the potential of any animal is set at conception, and reduced by subsequent actions, it is self-evident that genetics have an important interaction with meat science. Rapid and continuing advances in genomics have accelerated progress in the dairy industry across the globe, aided by pooling of genetic and production data through Interbull and collaborative analysis. The beef industry is yet to achieve the same rate of adoption but can clearly benefit greatly from similar application toward yield and quality. Data to date however is concentrated on the longissimus muscle and principally on shear force or other laboratory measures. What research is required to maximise the genomics opportunity and speed up application and adoption? Are there better mechanisms to encourage greater interaction between meat scientists and geneticists?


Live animal measures and management tools

Alternative breed, feed and management interactions have been studied for decades in relation to livestock performance and carcase based outcomes. What needs to be revisited in the light of new technologies and more recent research? What areas hold the greatest promise to encourage improved production of nutritious, delicious, affordable beef? Which technologies offer promise to accurately predict carcase composition or quality prior to kill? Can measures of temperament be used to reduce dark cutting by identifying individuals at risk and applying remediation on farm or in lairage?

Dramatic change in communication technologies is also facilitating extensive data exchange with potential to integrate producer and processor data for mutual benefit both through brand values relying on individual animal history and in adopting breeding and management systems to reflect value based payment and veterinary feedback from the processor.


The area of data exchange is of critical interest to AMPC and Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) with recognition of the need to implement systems that facilitate uniform data collection and analysis techniques allied to commercial applications that can effectively manage and interpret “big data”. How can complex megadata output from alternative technologies be interpreted for practical industry use? How do meat scientists interact in the development and utilization of these technologies?


Fundamental Biology

Effective and efficient commercial application of meat science is fundamentally based on pure research that explains and quantifies the complex biology that explains “how things work” with emphasis on all aspects of the production of meat. Biological interactions critically impact the live animal and subsequent carcase biology is directly reflected in eating quality outcomes, muscle differences, ageing potential, cooking method interactions and consumer satisfaction. The live animal, carcase and consumer interactions need to be understood to mitigate and control the risk of benefits in one component relating to negative impacts in another.


Pure Research Knowledge Development

The basic understanding of muscle biology is being continually expanded over time. Meat tenderness has long been studied but is there more to do? Flavour appears far less understood and more difficult to interpret than tenderness and may deserve more attention. The final eating experience clearly involves all facets and the combination of tenderness, juiciness and flavour with the development of each attribute both linked and resulting from myriad interactions and including connective tissue, protein components, enzymes and fat contributions in combination with pH and temperature conditions. Where is our basic science limiting? What is a sensible mix of pure and applied research? How can communication be improved to ensure effective collaboration between researchers and industry? What is required to engage young scientists and ensure future expertise?


Training and Development of the Next Generation

Highly developed skills are required to successfully operate in any business as complex as red meat and a new generation of leaders, industry professional managers and production staff must be trained, nurtured and developed to leave all industry segments in capable hands with solid growth prospects in a very competitive environment. New approaches will be required to foster the development of an open innovation network and requisite attitudes and competence. More than ever before interpersonal, inter-company and international R&D and extension relationships will be required to develop, deliver and optimise opportunities created by accelerated innovation. How can the industry build interest in a meat industry career and attract the best and brightest? How can a seamless multilevel system that accommodates basic practical skill training to high end science be facilitated and nurtured?


AMPC envisages transitioning from RD&E facilitation to developing and leading an industry culture change toward operating within thought leader resource networks to an open innovation network. This involves harnessing the world’s best ideas and leading practices in the process of building enduring industry relationships and a growing dynamic network of service providers.


Research Collaboration within a Competitive Environment

Under current funding models most research is funded by competitive grant. By nature this engages institutions and individuals in a competitive rather than collaborative framework and may not always deliver the best or most efficient solution with reducing funding increasing the pressure. Further, private funding models and concentration on IP ownership can limit accessibility to the broader industry. Concurrently however decreasing resources might be more efficiently utilized by specialisation and collaboration between centres of excellence. A related problem is ensuring the legacy of experienced researchers is not lost but passed on and that the brightest and best young scientists are nurtured to ensure continuity and viable future meat science capacity by attracting and retaining the best. What are appropriate principles to optimize research outcomes? How can local and international collaboration be best encouraged?


Bridging the Gap between Science and Industry Adoption

Traditionally in the red meat industry there has been a significant time lag between research initiation, conclusions and industry adoption. Part of this may reflect communication issues or the lack of clear commercial benefit from adopting new findings. What are/have been the impediments to rapid research adoption? What structural research arrangements can improve adoption? Is there a process that can better facilitate a smooth linkage from pure science to applied science to commercial application?

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