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Livestock Products - Beef Carcase Classification

Beef Carcase Classification Several hanging beef carcases - image courtesy of QMS

Under EU legislation mandatory beef carcase classification was introduced in January 1992 in those EU-approved abattoirs which slaughter over 75 cattle each week. Market specification for carcases are defined primarily in terms of carcase weight, conformation and fat. For cattle the process is based on a visual assessment.

Beef Classification has three main purposes:

  • the grade given to a carcase and its weight determines the estimated yield of meat and this is the basis for a flat rate paid to the farmer. The classification price is calculated within the main abattoirs, usually on the Friday prior to the following week's slaughter.
  • accurate assessment of the yield and quality of meat from a carcase allows processors to maximise efficiency by having distinct work areas for the different classes and therefore reducing time and cost.
  • price reporting to the European Union. Standardised prices according to classification enable comparisons to be made between the different countries.

The accurate classification of carcases is important for consistency in the industry and at present is performed by specially trained individuals and monitored by the Scottish Government's Meat and Livestock Inspectors.

The Meat and Livestock Inspectors visit premises to:

  • licence test candidates to classification standards
  • inspect abattoirs
  • cross check producer invoices with classification reports for accuracy

Research Towards an Integrated Measurement of Meat Eating Quality (IMEQ)

The Scottish Government and Quality Meat Scotland took forward a research project develop and test both automated and semi-automated technologies to predict beef carcass and meat eating quality that can be deployed in a commercial abattoir environment.  There was a high level of input from commercial partners all who have been acknowledged in the final report.

The Future of Classification

Legislation exists which allows classification to be carried out electronically. Work is presently underway to begin evaluating Visual Imaging Analysis (VIA) technology, with a view to the introduction of automated carcase grading into the UK. From the classification the carcase is given, the new VIA system would be able to estimate its probable yield. This would have the advantage that the carcases could be channeled into the markets where they would receive the best return. This move is encouraged by the European Commission as it should improve constistency and price transparency in carcase classification.