‘Europe’s beef classification scheme just doesn’t shape up’

A leading US livestock production specialist has told AgriLand that the EU’s current beef classification system is not fit for purpose.
“The shape of an animal is in no way linked to the eating quality of the beef that eventually ends up in a plate,” added Professor Francis Fluharty, from Ohio State University.

“On that basis, I think the current EU classification system has no role to play within a purely commercial environment. However, the marbling within the meat is a key indicator of the quality and the overall taste experience enjoyed by the consumer. Currently, in the United States the price paid for cattle by processers is determined by the extent of marbling found within the resulting carcasses. The age of the animal at slaughter is also important. Only cattle killed at less than thirty months of age can be deemed eligible for all of the prime beef schemes operating in the US at the present time.”

Professor Fluharty, who was on a recent visit to Ireland, continued “Over the past number of years, American exporters have managed to break into the lucrative Japanese market with a selection of top quality prime beef cuts, all of which are highly marbled. It’s all about taste, not shape.”

He went on to explain that the vast majority of beef cattle in the US are finished as steers in feed lots over a 150 day period. Most reach final slaughter weight at around 18 months of age.

“Angus sires now account for 95 per cent plus of the bulls that are used in our beef herds,” he further explained. “Grass fed beef does no longer features within the US beef market. It just takes the cattle reared in this way too long to finish. Research has also shown that the ‘high grain’ finishing systems practised in North America have a lower Carbon Footprint than those that are more reliant on forages.”

Professor Fluharty concluded: “These are exciting times for the various beef sectors around the world. There are 51 million Chinese people entering the realms of the middle classes, as defined in US terms, each year. This will bring about a tremendous growth in demand for beef and other animal proteins, allied to the ability of people to pay for it all. I also believe the Irish beef industry has a great opportunity to avail of these new market opportunities over the coming years.”

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