Carcase evaluation – fit for the future?

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The AHDB in England recently initiated an industry call for views on how the future should look for beef carcase evaluation in the UK post Brexit. This call for views is designed to seek comments in anticipation of a full consultation later in the year.

Currently the UK follows EU requirements by using the common EU beef carcase classification system known as the EUROP grid which was first introduced in the 1970s. This provides a mechanism not only to grade livestock but also to exchange price information across the European Union.

This common system is designed to maintain transparency with the pricing of carcases, a good example of which is enabling us in Northern Ireland to compare prices with the Republic of Ireland where our livestock systems and specification are similar.

Looking to the future there has been much discussion about the relevance of the EUROP grid in communicating consumer and retailer demands. There is an interest in some quarters to move to a system which rewards yield and meat quality rather than being reliant on the EUROP grid.

There are existing systems in countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia where they have incorporated eating quality parameters to the valuation of their beef carcases and which we can use for comparison.

While there is currently no suggestion that the UK will move to a new system for grading cattle, Brexit does at least afford the opportunity to look at what we are currently doing and consider whether there is a better way. However it should be noted that the challenge to move to a new system should not be underestimated.

We have a system which has been well established for over 40 years. It is well recognised by farmers and it has broad acceptance. Developing a new system would require setting new parameters and would take time to bed in.

We might not be able to compare prices accurately with the EU or perhaps not at all. When you also consider that it took time for VIA grading to become the accepted method of grading cattle in Northern Ireland, moving to a system which rewards cattle on eating cattle would bring with it many more considerations.

We should question whether it would be worth becoming reliant on grading cattle by eating quality. Or are we better sticking with what we know and conduct further research on other factors which can influence eating quality, such as genetics, diet, how the animal is reared, handling pre-slaughter and processing technique post slaughter?

Overall, it is timely to have this debate as we exit Europe and consider our options for the future.

If you wish to seek more information on this AHDB call for views you can go to their webpage http://beefandlamb.ahdb.org.uk/call-industry-views-carcase-classification/, or if you wish to feed in views to the UFU please contact me via ebell@ufuhq.com or 028 9037 0222.