NI Producers Confident in VIA Carcase Grading

NORTHERN IRELAND, UK - It is nearly 12 months since Northern Ireland’s processing plants officially turned on their video image analysis (VIA) technology to grade beef and lamb carcases – and farmers in the country have become a lot more comfortable and confident about the replacement of manual graders in that time, says the National Beef Association.
calendar icon 14 March 2012
clock icon 3 minute read

For the majority of producers, an initial period of confusion and fears about prices falling has been replaced with appreciation about stability and uniformity of grading.

This was emphasised by a VIA discussion session at the National Beef Association’s Beef Northern Irish event last week, where the general consensus was very positive.

Beef NI was held at Dungannon Farmers Mart, Co. Tyrone, and so the opportunity was taken to facilitate visitors spending an hour in Linden Foods, located across the road, with representatives from Linden Foods, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) and Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association (NIMEA). A live streaming from the factory floor allowed visitors to view carcase grading while discussing how the system worked and had been monitored and inspected since being “turned on” on March 28th, 2011.

Oisin Murnion, NBA NI Chairman, says: “The sessions at Linden Foods provoked some good debate about VIA, especially as some Scottish producers unfamiliar with the system attended alongside our Northern Ireland farmers. It may be a year since VIA started but people still have a lot of questions and many of these were answered. We are very grateful to DARD, LMC, NIMEA and Linden Foods for putting on the sessions as part of NBA Beef NI.”

Contributions from DARD Quality Assurance Officers Dr Charlotte Moore and John Martin explained the inspection regime for the VIA machines and also how the machines were calibrated for optimal accuracy. Connall Donnelly, LMC Economist, spoke about the 15-point EUROP grid and how prices had moved to accommodate the drop in U grades and rise in Rs, meaning the average price had remained stable.

Mr Murnion says: “It was reassuring to hear that DARD inspect the machine every week, without any advance warning, and view four times as many carcases as required by the legislation. Also that the machines can only be out by one-third of a sub-class, which is the difference between a R and a R-.

“Each plant also has a manual grader, who grades any carcase that is diverted from the machine, usually because of carcase damage that means it cannot be presented to the camera. We learnt that a grade allocated by the machine cannot be changed by the manual grader – but that does not mean a farmer cannot question the grade he is given.

"If you are in any doubt that your animal has not been given the right grade, speak to the factory, as there are always outliers and anomalies and the impression we’ve been given is that the processors are willing to talk to any farmer who has a concern or question.”

The NBA has been watching the situation in Northern Ireland closely, not just because of the impact on its members there, but also because of the likely increasing use of VIA throughout the rest of the UK in the future.

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