Changes to beef carcass specifications unveiled in July must be adopted by all abattoirs from 1 January 2009. Aimed at improving transparency in abattoir pricing, the changes include the elimination of “company” spec.

Both the New National and Company specifications have been removed, leaving just three revised options, reports Meat and Livestock Commission Services (MLCSL). These are Standard Spec (the old “MLC standard spec”), EC Reference Spec (the “Old EC spec”) and the widely adopted UK spec (an adaptation of the previous “New EC spec”) – the latter adopted by larger abattoirs and used for price reporting.

According to Charles Clarke of MLCSL – which provides independent classification and weighing services to the abattoir sector – it will make comparing abattoir prices simpler. “Variation between old specs was greater and cutting it down to just three specs will make it easier, but we could still do with just one spec for better transparency.”

carcass specs

Price differentials should be applied by abattoirs to take into account the different trim levels, explains MLCSL. For example, the price/kg should be more for UK spec than for the Standard spec due to the additional trimming

Different levels of trim result in a 2% difference in like-for-like carcass weights for steers and 2.5% for heifers, according to MLCSL data (see below).

The main changes are to the UK Spec which includes a need to leave a covering of fat over the brisket and the retention of the pizzle sheath on males.

“It still remains important for producers to know to which specification carcasses are trimmed. And we would still encourage producers to be there when carcasses are classified, weighed and dressed so they have a better understanding of the process and to ensure there’s no discrepancy in abattoir returns,” emphasised Mr Clarke.

At a deadweight price of £2.80p/kg a typical 320kg carcass trimmed to Standard spec would be see a producer paid £896.00. For carcasses trimmed to UK spec that would fall to £879.20 – a fall of £16.80/carcass – due to the extra trim.

To overcome the difference in carcass weight under the different trim specs, abattoirs have been issued with guidelines to ensure prices paid to producers are comparable, according to MLCSL. “The gap between trim specs is closer than the old system, but it still can amount to a lot of money when multiplied up over a batch of cattle,” warns Mr Clarke.

From 1 January 2009 abattoir kill sheets and software systems should have all references to the much-contested Company spec removed. All pricing will now be based on the three ratified specs approved by the EC after representation from the UK government.