All farmers should be given access to the digital image of their beef animals carcass, according to ICMSA Livestock Committee Chair, Michael Guinan.

The digital image, which is produced by the grading machine, should be made available for information and transparency purposes, he said.

These images should also be provided in order to increase farmer confidence that their animal is being graded correctly and fairly, he added.

Animal Health Ireland, Meat Industry Ireland and the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine are now recording levels of liver fluke in animals and making that available to farmers online, Guinan said.

This information is being made available through the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation’s Beef Healthcheck Online.

Guinan believes it would be a relatively simple exercise to extend this service to the carcass image and make that available to the farmer too through the ICBF website.

Improving understanding and transparency

The current grading machines produce a digital image of each carcass that passes through the machine, he said.

This decides the grade that is assigned to that particular carcass which, in turn, decides the price achieved by the farmer, he added.

“Our reservations about the over-complicated structure of the QPS (Quality Pricing System) are a matter of record but if we have to work with it then it seems sensible that at least we attempt to make it more transparent and understandable for the farmers.

“Accordingly, ICMSA is proposing that the individual carcass image should be available to the beef producer along with a comparable carcass for that grade so that the farmer can see how their animal’s grade was achieved and make a comparison,” he said.

These measures will be a practical aid to understanding carcass grading going forward and allow farmers see how the classification of their cattle is arrived at, he said.

The ICMSA proposal is a practical and easily do-able step towards achieving confidence in a system that doesn’t enjoy a very high level of that farmer trust.

Guinan also believes that regular independent audits and testing should be carried out and the results published in each case.

“While the Department is carrying out checks of grading machines and weighing scales, it would further improve farmer confidence if these results were published.

“Additionally, technical issues such as the reduction of tolerances and bias for mechanical classification and allowing changes to technical specifications of classification machines must be published or made available publicly when such changes are made.

“Grading is having a huge impact on farmer returns and is becoming increasingly important due to extra beef being supplied from the dairy sector,” he said.