ABA Tictacs – MSA Grading

Consumer satisfaction is always important to any product and red meat is no different.

In the late 90s MLA found that falling beef consumption had a lot to do with the lucky dip of inconsistency where as steak could be brilliant one-day and tough the next.
To address this problem the MLA went out and developed a grading system that was simply fantastic.

The system identified age,fat, colour and a range of other factors that could be keyed in to make a calculation as to whether that meat would be fit for purpose example grilling steak or stewing.

Much taste testing was undertaken to ensure that the system actually worked and consumers could have confidence in the system.
Star system three, four and five star three was a lower pass mark and this meant that if you bought star three the quality of may not be as good as star five.
The only problem was people in the industry who are used to buying lower quality product at a discount and then on selling it as a top class product.

The fact was MSA was simply too good and retailers and processors refused to adopt and unlike producers MLA could not impose their will on the sector. If MLA had the same of problem with producers they would place another segment into LPA which of course is a voluntary system, however processors will not accept cattle without an LPA form.

What the MLA has done to get adoption was to water down the system so as to get critical mass.
First to go were the independent MLA graders who are replaced by company graders who were beholden to their employers not the MLA. DNA testing although expensive made sure that there was no substitution and traceability was possible. Now we find ourselves without a sure fire way of tracing. Star rating 3,4 and five were removed.

One major supermarket decided to go with MSA now we see that selling star? With no indicator of whether the meat has come for a grain-fed cattle or a cast-for-aged cow. The same supermarket make certain that the carcass beef they buy is of a very good standard, however the MSA box meat that they buy may be a different kettle of fish. Consumers have no idea til they eat the product and if it is not suitable it destroys confidence in the system.

It also encourages retailers to buy poor quality product at discount prices and then on sell as a top quality product.

A great example is scotch fillets simply sold at the processing works as MSA product with a an overriding label saying that meat can be sold as MSA after 30 days.A retailer may have to keep this in his refrigerator for 28 days before becoming eligible for MSA.

Everybody in the industry realises that nobody is going to keep a box of valuable meat in the cooler for 30 days. And normally this meat is cut up and retailed within days of landing in a retailers or wholesalers premises.

Surely if this system is serious then there must be assurance that the product is not released prior to the number of days marked on the boxes according to MSA grading.

It seems that there are moves afoot to bring star three, four and five back however one doubts whether Woolworths will adapt.

For their part the MLA keeps on with the charade and spends vast amounts of producer money despite consumption of beef going down whilst chicken and pork continue their upward march.

In the 1970s chicken consumption was 15 kg per year whilst beef was 70 kg now in 2013 we see the consumption of beef around 31 kg and chicken around 45 kg. Surely even the MLA should be looking at a truly independent inquiry into MSA.

In fact, in 2007, the MLA commissioned a so-called independent report into the success of MSA, that report came up with figures MLA had spent $230 million on MSA at that stage and the return to the industry was $995 million. This is typical of the rot that producers are being fed.

The fact is that processors are now discounting any cattle that don’t make MSA Processors in contrast to producers they are doing very nicely and are still selling meat from discounted cattle at a premium price.

Where does this leave producers? The producers are forced to fund a system, via levies, that was great system but has become corrupted by greed .

In summary the producer is only paid according to the quality of his livestock, presently in north Australia an average of $1.60 a kilo for prime bullocks. But the same rules do not apply at retail or food service. This in turn causes enormous amounts of damage to the industry.
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