13 November 1998

Check your weight

SIMPLE weight checks on-farm can indicate whether a fair price is being paid by abattoirs for finished cattle amid concern over over-zealous carcass trimming.

National Beef Association chief executive Robert Forster raised concerns (Business, Nov 6) that trimming practices – of which there are five specifications used in UK abattoirs – could provide a smoke-screen which masks losses of up to £50/carcass for producers.

Beef consultant David Allen says producers should arm themselves with basic information to work out payments. Accurate weighing on-farm, less transport losses will provide a basis for comparing expected carcass weight with actual abattoir weight.

According to MLCs Chris Warkup a recent study suggests cattle lose an average of 2% on one hour journeys and 4.5% when they travel for six hours. When this includes overnight lairage liveweight can fall by up to 6.5%.

Although the MLC has details of trimming specifications, producers must ask company meat buyers which one is used and what difference in weight can be expected when comparing with a conventionally trimmed carcass. Tighter trimming should be reflected in higher prices.

For example a 550kg beast with a 11kg weight loss – 2% of liveweight – during transport should weight 296.5kg on the hook at 55% killing out. When sold at the current price of 80p/kg it would achieve £237.16 before deductions. Where tight trimming specification reduces carcass weight by 10kg, it must achieve almost 83p/kg for the same return.

Where producers are concerned that carcass weight is being consistently understated, Oxon Trading Standards officer Ian Marriot says complaints can be investigated. However, he warns while large abattoirs are required to have batch carcass weigh scales checked periodically – usually when installed or after major repairs and services – theres no legal requirement to have individual carcass weighers checked