THE BRITISH beef industry lags ten years behind market leaders because it is not focused on eating quality, according to beef producer and retailer Donald MacPherson.

He believes producers are missing out on millions because the EUROP grid grading system used in the UK values a carcass on build and fat cover rather than eating quality.

A different system is used in Australia, where an animal‘s past is used to predict its taste, giving different cuts a star-rating and filtering out poor quality meat.

A top quality “five star” cut sells for three times the average beef price.

“I know Meat Standards Australia is a good system and it would be good for British famers too, so I can‘t understand why it has not been taken up here,” said Mr MacPherson, whose Well Hung and Tender brand recently won Farmers Weekly Battle of the Beef competition.

“In Australia, they have gone from producing some of the worst beef in the world to some of the best. They‘ve done this just by weeding out the poor carcasses.”

“There will always be a market for cheap beef, and that‘s fine. But we do have an opportunity through MSA to get a bigger proportion of our beef through as higher value, branded product.”

Robert Forster, president of the National Beef Association agreed that the Meat Standards Australia was well worth examining.

“When we‘re in a situation where subsidy income is decoupled and everything depends on the market, anything that can add value to a carcase is welcomed.

“We still have a problem that when you buy a steak, it is a bit of a lottery. The essential ingredient of the MSA system is that it irons out inconsistencies.”

Beef has to make 250-300p/kg deadweight to be viable without subsidy support, but at present farmers are receiving well below 200p/kg and an MSA premium would help to fill the gap.

But Kim Matthews, meat technician with the Meat and Livestock Committee said that it was not being considered by his organisation.

“There are elements of the predictive model that give some insight into eating quality, but in terms of practice, much of it is already there.

“The MSA approach is to say ‘tell us what you‘ve done and we‘ll predict the quality of cuts‘.

“Our approach is to say ‘we‘ll tell you how to carry out best practice and that will optimise flavour‘.”

But a Department of Agriculture and Rural Development project is underway in Northern Ireland to assess the feasibility of introducing MSA.