ALFA conference investigates scanning options

Smart approach: John Langbridge from Teys Australia, Cattle Council of Australia independent director David Hill and Sean Starling from MLA.
Smart approach: John Langbridge from Teys Australia, Cattle Council of Australia independent director David Hill and Sean Starling from MLA.

Using scanning technology on live animals as they enter feedlots to assess their fat, lean muscle and bone yields is something that could become widespread in the future.

That was the message from Meat & Livestock Australia’s research, development and innovation boss Sean Starling who spoke about objective measurements and future research and development concepts in Armidale yesterday. 

Delegates to the Australian Lot Feeder Association’s conference, SmartBeef 2017, had a full program on Thursday at the University of New England, with a visit to Sundown Pastoral, near Kingstown, today.

The ‘smart’ sessions looked at technology and how Australian meat brands and supply chains can rise to the challenges presented by global markets.

Mr Starling spoke on DEXA – which stands for Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry – and has been used for decades in the medical industry to measure bone density and body fat composition.

Plus spoke about MLA’s work investigating advances in CT (Computerised Tomography) that could be used on both live animals and carcases.

He said MLA was working with two American companies to investigate adapting CT scanners suit feedlots and abattoirs.

One company has developed large CT scanners used to check luggage in airports, while the other designed a scanner that animals can walk through (it was originally designed for horses).

He wasn’t the only speaker looking at the benefits of better technology that would deliver more in-depth and accurate feedback information.

John Langbridge from Teys Australia went into detail about the new DEXA facility that would be operational at their Rockhampton plant (Queensland) next year, with the scanner set to be installed next week.

MLA's Sean Starling.

MLA's Sean Starling.

Mr Langbridge said on the global market Australia was lagging.

“We are not particularly price competitive,” he said. “Our labour costs are three or four times higher than Brazil and New Zealand does better as well.

“We (processors) need to send the right price signals to farmers so they can produce better animals,” Mr Langbridge said.

“Fat (not including marbling) isn’t worth anything.”

While DEXA scanning isn’t as accurate as “gold standardard” CT scanners, it will still give far superior results and could lead into other technical advances in meat processing like the ability to guide robotic saws.

Mr Langbridge said DEXA would improve quality control and provide much more information on the value of carcases and an animal’s lean muscle yield.

The value based measurements could be linked to the Meat Standards Australia (MSA) grading and other indexes.

“Then we need to get the appropriate information back to the farmers,” he said. 

Giving a grower’s perspective was Cattle Council of Australia’s David Hill. He talked about supply chain profitability – a comparison of what feedback systems are currently used, how they are put into practice and what will be available in the future.

“Using data to make smart production decisions,” he said, “including the use of objective measurement carcase feedback.

“One of the things I think the industry’s done really well is the MISP (Meat Industry Strategic Plan) for 2020.”

He said prices should be differentiated on key quality and yield attributes, backed by objective measurements.

“The biggest non-economic challenge facing our industry is cultural change,” Mr Hill said.

“This is a far greater task than delivering any related technologies.”