‘It’s time to scrap the European classification grid’

COMMENT: Milk producers will always grumble about the price they get for their milk. However, they cannot argue about the transparency that dairy processors bring to bear in relation to their payment procedures. Each farmer knows exactly how much milk he supplies on a monthly basis with full details regarding butterfat, protein and cell counts and so on made available in equal measure.

The beef sector, on the other hand, seems to operate using a slightly different handbook. In the first instance the price that a farmer gets for his finished stock, almost certainly, depends on the number of cattle he is supplying the plants throughout the year. In fact, so important has this become that the Livestock and Meat Commission in Northern Ireland has recently highlighted the fact that a farmer’s ‘negotiation skills’ can be the real profit and loss factor when it comes to selling ion a deadweight basis.

But this is only part of the conundrum that is the beef industry. The reality is that the current European beef classification grid is no longer fit for purpose. Back in the day when 90 per cent plus of Irish beef was destined for intervention it may have had a useful role to play. But that was then. Today all of our beef ends up on commercial markets and will be eaten by consumers throughout Europe and beyond.

So here’s the question: what connection does carcass shape and external fat cover have with the taste and overall eating quality of a steak that ends up on your plate? And, of course the answer is absolutely nothing.

Across in the US farmers are paid, not on the basis of carcass shape, but on the degree of marbling within the beef produced. This facet of the meat can be easily determined by video analysis. Research has confirmed a direct link between marbling and meat eating quality. Moreover, the degree of marbling can be directly affected by the feeding and management regimes adopted on-farm.

I am not a great believer in implementing every agri-food related ’innovation’ that sees the light of day in the US. However, the principle of paying beef farmers on the basis of meat eating quality is one that should be considered at length by the EU authorities and the redmeat processing sector.

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