Trials on hi-tech beef grading machines at advanced stage

Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

A trial using digital cameras and LED lights as part of the mechanical grading system in meat factories is at an "advanced stage", it has been confirmed.

It follows criticism of the machines as "outdated and obsolete", as TD Denis Naughten highlighted it is 14 years since their introduction - which predates the arrival of the iPhone.

The ICMSA said very "serious questions" remain unanswered on the beef grading machines and the Department's record of inspecting them.

Mr Naughten warned beef farmers could be losing €140 per animal due to grading machines operating outside of the recommended thresholds.

However, Meat Industry Ireland (MII) said the automated carcase grading system that is in operation in Ireland is "by no means obsolete".

MII's Cormac Healy said it was the most comprehensive approach to ensuring objective and consistent classification according to the European Commission's EUROP grading system in any member state.

Former Communications Minister Denis Naughten
Former Communications Minister Denis Naughten

Advanced stage

The industry-led trial is being supervised by the Department of Agriculture, which said it was at an "advanced stage".

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"Subject to confirmation of effectiveness, the Department would expect the industry to move to implement this technology in due course," it stated.

MII confirmed that a carcase classification expert from the Netherlands, who was formerly working with the European Commission, was also assisting in the trial.

Mr Healy said it aimed to "future-proof the system with the latest camera and lighting technology" and once validated, the aim was to roll it out across all sites that have automated grading.

The Department stated it was satisfied the existing system is compliant with all the relevant EU regulations.

Mr Healy said the Department provided the independent checking of the performance of grading technology with announced and unannounced inspections.

Over the past two years, inspectors found 21 cases of mechanical beef grading machines not correctly grading; they were replaced by manual grading while the problems were rectified.

However, Mr Naughten said if a machine was out by at least two subcategories then it could see farmers getting a €140/hd less for their cattle.

He claimed that in the UK grading machines have to be checked daily and inaccuracies must be specifically recorded and addressed.

However, Irish machines have reports on a weekly basis.

MII hit back, saying the checks in Ireland were "more comprehensive" than in the UK or any other member states.

"The UK has far fewer automated grading systems in operation than here in Ireland as they continue to rely mainly on manual grading, which we moved on from years ago," Mr Healy said.

The ICMSA's livestock chair Des Morrison said there were many pressing questions including whether farmers whose cattle were "incorrectly graded" by those machines were reimbursed and by what percentage were the machines out of line.

MII rejects claims that factory machines are 'outdated and obsolete'

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