Long-awaited changes to the definition of “lamb” are welcome, says University of New England meat scientist Dr Peter McGilchrist, but they still don’t allow sheepmeat to be marketed on quality.
“The beef industry has long given up on using these sort of terms, and beef is sold on how acceptable individual cuts are to the consumer,” Dr McGilchrist said. “That’s where we need to take sheepmeat if we’re really going to extract maximum value for the industry.”
The challenge is bringing in the necessary investment to drive technology development. Compared to the global beef industry, the lamb industry is relatively niche, and only the Australian and New Zealand lamb industries are likely to provide a return to investors.
And yet, Dr McGilchrist says, objective measurement of sheepmeat is tantalisingly close.
The Meat Standards Australia (MSA) model for cuts based grading of lamb has been generated: it only needs to be switched on. “All we need is some numbers for marbling and carcass yield to feed into the predictive model.”
Recent developments have made Dr McGilchrist hopeful. A Japanese company that devised near infra red (NIR) technology for assessing intramuscular fat (IMF) in tuna visited UNE last week to generate data which will allow the units to be adapted for lamb.
“As soon as we can reliably measure IMF, we can start to use the lamb MSA model, and this outdated process of gauging meat quality through dentition should become history,” he says.
“We’re hoping we’ll be capable of setting up a system for measuring IMF within 12 months. We’re hoping to also bring in measurements of shear force – a measurement of meat tenderness – at some later point to help refine the eating quality predictions for sheepmeat.”
“When we can start to rank lamb and sheep on these objective measurements, the industry will for the first time have a way of differentiating lamb in the marketplace, and that’s going to open up a whole lot of opportunity.”