Concern over Video Carcase Classification

UK - The National Beef Association has called for deep discussions between meat processors and cattle finishers ahead of Video Image Analysis (VIA) machines being installed by meat plants to automatically classify beef carcases in all parts of the UK.
calendar icon 19 May 2010
clock icon 3 minute read

The move to install VIA is fuelled in part by abattoir owners trying to cut back on spiralling classification costs but if it is not done properly it could penalise finishers to the tune of many millions of pounds a year on a cross-UK basis.

The VIA machines currently being trialled in Northern Ireland has been pitted successfully against experienced human graders as part of the EU approved pre-examination that is required ahead of commercial installation.

However the results demonstrate the need for universal adjustments to be made to classification grid based payments if a VIA machine has classified the carcase – compared to the payments already in place for carcases classified by human graders.

This is because the trials show that the VIA machine is more accurate than human graders in measuring carcase conformation and feeders will lose money, perhaps 1.5p per kg dead weight on average or around £14 million a year over the UK finishing sector as a whole, unless compensatory payment adjustments are made by plant owners who have installed a VIA machine.

For example in Northern Ireland graders/classifiers are instructed to give the finisher the benefit of doubt in the estimated six per cent of cases where it is difficult to decide whether carcase conformation is at the top of the R range or the bottom of the U range.

However the VIA machine, which is precisely programmed to identify the exact conformation of a carcase, does not need to err on the side of farmers and so classifies fewer, more expensive, U grade cattle and confirms more relatively plainer R grade carcases instead.

According to the NBA the solution, which will even out farmers’ income losses triggered by the use of the more sensitive VIA machine, would be for processors to pay more for carcases which hit the top end of the R grade – which would be possible if R+ was introduced as part of a 15 point classification scale in plants which use VIA machines.

It would also like a comprehensive analysis of all the anomalies between automatic and human classification to be conducted so that all grid based payments, across all conformation grades from P to E, are exactly measured against the VIA machines precision.

Or, alternatively the Association says an end of year bonus could be paid on all carcases that grade R+ or better.

“VIA classification is a new concept which could deliver improved results for both processors and farmers as long as care is taken to realign grid payments in plants where VIA is used. This means it would be necessary for plants which use VIA to have different grid payments than those which do not,” said NBA director, Kim Haywood.

“It is imperative that carefully calculated, realigned, grid payments are made ahead of any VIA machine being installed commercially and the Association is ready to discuss this with meat processor representatives in all part of the UK.”

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