Meat classification needs overhaul, study suggests

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A Spanish scientist has discovered two variables that should be included in meat classification in order to produce a more exact economic evaluation in line with consumer demand, writes Anthony Fletcher.

Gregorio Indurain Báñez from the Public University of Navarra found that measuring the thickness of the dorsal fat mass or the veining in the meat by means of ultrasonic technology enables a determination to be made of the amount of fat or the flavour of the veal, essential parameters for establishing its quality.

In Spain, as in the other countries of the European Union, the commercial value of beef is based on a visual assessment of the shape and fat content of the carcass. Báñez therefore investigated the usefulness of various additional measurements in order to better predict the quality and, thus, to complement the current classification system.

The study is important because consumers have become much more concerned about the content of packaged food, and such surveys can do brands a great deal of damage in terms of lost trust. In addition, consumers do not like to feel that they are being ripped off, and the meat industry in particular must fight hard to retain consumer confidence in premium products, if prices are to hold.

Today's article​ about the high water content in meat for example illustrates how substandard products can tarnish the whole industry and undermine trust.

This quality study could therefore have wider applications for the beef industry, which is working hard to regain to regain its market position following a series of food scares and bad publicity. Báñez employed techniques incorporating high levels of safety, precision and durability, which he claims could be used with regularity across the sector.

The research was carried on a wide sample of yearling calves of the Pirenaica (Pyrenees) breed, the main source of meat sold under the Protected Geographical Origin label, "Veal from Navarre"​. In the study, variables related to the fattening and flavour of meat were investigated.

Báñez concluded that both the thickness of dorsal fat - measured directly on the carcass -, and the veining in the meat - as measured by ultrasonic means - were related to the percentage of intramuscular fat or the veining in the logissimus dorsi muscle and, using this parameter, related to the composition of fatty acids and the aroma and flavour profiles of the meat.

The introduction of these two variables into the current classification of carcasses would therefore achieve a more exact economic evaluation, in line with consumer demand for transparency and value. Nevertheless, Báñez maintains that it is necessary to continue investigating ultrasonic technology in order to adapt it to the characteristics of particular breeds.

The research also concludes that the carcasses sold under the "Veal from Navarre"​ label are relatively homogenous as regards shape (grade U or very good) and fattiness (grade 2 or little fat). The meat has a low percentage of fat and this fat, in turn, a high content of polyunsaturated fatty acids, known for being beneficial for the health.

If successfully rolled out across the industry, the technique could go some way to helping the beef industry guarantee the quality of some premium products, and help keep the sector from sliding into commodification.

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