A TOOL able to more accurately measure marbling and rib eye area in a cattle carcase is being rolled out across Wagyu supply chains in a move likely to place beef brands in prime position to target the ultra-premium end of the market.
The digital imaging technology, 20 years in the making, has been developed in Japan for Wagyu characteristics.
Australia will be the first country outside Japan to implement the tool in carcase grading.
With the idea of being on the objective carcase measurement front-foot, the Australian Wagyu Association (AWA) has partnered with the company behind the camera, Meat Image Japan, and bought an initial five systems out, which have been sold to members and are now in operation.
AWA is taking expressions of interest for a second round of five systems, which will be available in December.
Chief executive officer Matthew McDonagh said while it wasn’t known just how big the market capacity for the technology would be, AWA had a three-year agreement to support the commercialisation of the cameras and was committed to its implementation given the obvious benefits.
AWA will also distribute and support the MIJ camera technology in New Zealand and South Africa.
Objective carcase measurement in the Australian meat industry had been acknowledged as a required step forward in providing supply chains with more precise data for meat quality, Dr McDonagh said.
“For Wagyu beef, brand promise is everything,” Dr McDonagh said.
“For brand owners, brand recognition represents a known quality, and part of the key to that story is the level of marbling.
“Therefore, accurate grading of marbling gives consumers and brand owners clarity and confidence in the brand and the eating experience.”
Australia has the largest Wagyu cattle population outside of Japan, so it makes sense our supply chains have the ability to assess Wagyu product using the same metrics, Dr McDonagh said.
While work on the camera started two decades ago, the current version, called the MIJ30, was produced 18 months ago and has been used in a research and development context in Australia, proving to be robust technology.
Under the current grading system in abattoirs, qualified meat graders assess beef carcases in a chilled environment using a set of quantitative measurements and qualified reference charts to define the grade.
These parameters include carcase weight, P8 fat depth, dentition, ossification, pH, intramuscular fat content (marble score), meat colour, fat colour and eye muscle area.
Dr McDonagh said employment of the MIJ objective carcase camera enhances the accuracy of marbling and rib eye area measurements to provide the supply chain with greater confidence in meat quality.
He said initial results suggest that some Australian Wagyu carcases can rate well above a marble score of 9-plus.
“Wagyu is renowned for its exceptional eating experience and that is due principally to its unique marbling characteristics,” Dr McDonagh said.
“The degree and quality of the fat distribution is what determines the quality of Wagyu and its demand by consumers.
“The new MIJ-30 camera enables processors and consumers to fully appreciate those qualities. It is a major step forward for the Wagyu industry in Australia.”
Grading starts with a scan of the carcase identification, followed by a digital image of the eye muscle by the MIJ-30 to calculate the range of traits important to Wagyu carcase quality.
Using a cloud-based analysis system that provides real-time grading, the camera takes a digital image that is uploaded via wifi or Bluetooth and results are given within 20 seconds. Alternatively, images can be stored on USB for analysis back in the office.
The MIJ-30 uses a digital optical system with a resolution of 12Mb.
Comparisons between chemical analysis of fat content and the MIJ-30 indicate that 90 per cent accuracy can be achieved.
Rib-eye area calculations are also highly accurate, as the technology uses automatic edge detection and can compensate for variations in cut angles and carcase rotations.
Each camera has a unique identifier, providing the customer with secure data and transfer. Images taken by the MIJ-30 are tagged with the identifier, giving the processor full ownership of the images and results and complete traceability.