Plants Accused Of Changing Carcase Conformation

UK - The National Beef Association has hit out at some meat plant owners in Northern Ireland for trimming and cutting carcases with the effect that the carcase assessment by the VIA machine, when compared to the previous manual assessment, can be lowered by a full conformation classification or grade.
calendar icon 5 May 2011
clock icon 2 minute read

The NBA said that experienced finishers have made the association aware that cattle expected to classify R= are now coming through as O= and similar reductions in value have been seen on cattle expected to grade U but now come through as R.

Average steer carcases weigh 370 kilos and the pence per kilo difference between a U3 carcase and one that is R3 is currently 8p – which means the finisher is being, paid £29.60 less.

Similarly the pence per kilo difference between an R3 and an O3 is currently 14p which means an average weight, 370kg steer carcase, earns the feeder £51.80 less if it is classified R instead of U.

“These are significant losses for the farmer and equally significant gains for the factory owner. We are told the transfer of advantage is being achieved by carefully targeted trimming which subtly alters the shape of the carcase and fools the VIA machine, which is programmed to react to the outline of the carcase it is presented with, into giving a much lower conformation grade,” explained NBA chairman Oisin Murnion.

The association has been made aware of more aggressive trimming at the neck, brisket and flank since VIA machines have been installed. On top of this the head is being removed much closer to the body so there is less neck.

“This, and careful knife work in other areas that are critical to carcase shape, can change conformation by up to a full grade and at worst result in some farmers losing over £50 a head because R grade cattle have been transformed into O’s,” said Mr Murnion.

“But that is not all. The NBA has been informed that some of this trim, which is perfectly acceptable and saleable, is being directed to other parts of the plant where it is re-absorbed into the processing system even though it has not been paid for because it was removed before the carcase was weighed and the payment due to the finisher could be calculated.”

“This suggests that carcase dressing standards installed after the universal, adoption of the UK dressing specification is falling short of requirements – and official plant inspectors need to act urgently on this.”

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