Age was not the only factor that influenced meat quality, said researchers, and there had been a number of changes in the industry after the implementation of the current classification system.
Carcass weight increased from 210 kg in 1993 to 266 kg in 2013 and the fat content of carcasses was significantly reduced compared to previous values.
Beta-agonists were now commonly used in feedlots as growth promoters, a practice that had a negative influence on meat quality.
A Class beef makes up 83% of beef slaughtered in the formal sector. Red meat was losing market share and pork and mutton were under pressure in the sector.
Research established that consumers did not necessarily know what they wanted in a red meat product, but one thing the sector did need was quality consistency.
Labelling meat as was done in other countries (especially of the First World) opened up various possibilities but was not without challenges.
The current system does not cater for the needs of emerging farmers or for producers in the Grassfed Association. Different systems for different producers and production systems may be required.
Inputs from industry roleplayers:
Grassfed Association: The true value of the grassfed product is not reflected under the current classification, and there’s discrimination against the yellow fat of the grassfed animal even though classification does not make provision for classing fat colour.
Red Meat Abattoir Association: The classification system is used for price differentiation on age and fatness and should remain as it is. The customer relies on branding by the retailer. The current classification system is not well marketed and there should be more research focus on meat quality.
South African Meat Company: Supports changing the system so long as it’s necessary, practical, auditable and sensible. The current system is purely descriptive and does not indicate quality.
NERPO: The emerging sector needs a simplified system. Small-scale farmers do not ‘relate’ to the current carcass classification system.
RPO: Questioned the value that allowed for the sale of meat under a 30-year-old system when so much had changed in the production systems.
It was agreed that a workshop with all industry role-players should be organised to upgrade the current system, if necessary, for the industry and for consumers.