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Lamb definition change to enhance brand integrity and avert discounts

by Terry Sim, 18 October 2017

SCA councillor Michael Craig

A CHANGE in the Australian lamb definition would enhance brand integrity, while giving farmers a signal to market lambs before incurring a discount, Sheepmeat Council of Australia councillor Michael Craig believes.

Australia’s AUS-MEAT language currently defines lamb as a female, castrated or entire male up to 12 months of age with no erupted permanent incisor teeth, whereas New Zealand defines lamb as a sheep under 12 months of age or which does not have any permanent incisor teeth in wear.

The SCA’s Lamb Definition Consultation Paper is proposing a change of the lamb definition to allow for the eruption of permanent incisors, but without either incisor being in wear, consistent with New Zealand’s criteria.

A national public consultation period on the definition of lamb among producers and meat supply chain members will end on November 29.

Definition change will not devalue lamb

Mr Craig is confident the lamb definition change will not devalue lamb.

“As outlined within the Holmes Sackett consultant report, the proposed definition change would only incorporate a very short time period.

“The research that has been done has demonstrated that it takes 27 days for both teeth to be in wear and as we all know it is very rarely both permanent incisors erupt together it would be considerably less than that time,” he said.

“By being able to provide producers with an on-farm signal to send to market before incurring a price discount, if anything, the proposed change in definition will enhance brand integrity as producers will have the ability to better finish their stock without having to send poorly conditioned lambs due to concern of teeth breaking.”

Mr Craig said the Holmes Sackett report outlines that NZ is able to audit and verify their dentition checks in ensuring market access, which demonstrates Australia’s ability to do so as well under a similar definition. Reasons for suggesting the definition change include that permanent incisors break differently among the various sheep breeds and nutrition also contributes, he said.

Eating quality research supports definition change

Mr Craig said eating quality research, which is published on the SCA website, demonstrated that small changes in the dentition of lamb (i.e. what is proposed) has little effect on eating quality of the animal.

“If the eating quality of the animal isn’t changed, one would conclude that the eating quality of the end product would also be left unchanged.

“Just as research has been progressed on yearling animals, research is being undertaken on the young lamb category,” he said.

“This research will form the basis for further developing category specific branding opportunities that provide producers with the price premium relative to product quality attributes,” he said.

“The notion that the age category of the whole brand will be pushed back an inordinate period of time is not true and the notion that further age category research on teeth break is unnecessary as it has already been conducted.”

Will definition change complicate cut-based assessment?

Mr Craig said the purpose of the lamb definition change is for industry to move toward the implementation of fit for purpose language.

“Whilst meat science and other industry technologies have made considerable gains, our meat and livestock specification language has not adjusted to reflect these developments.

“The proposed change in definition, which reflects the meat science, as well as audit and verification compliance standards, is the first step for industry to implement language that incorporates industry developments and maximises producer return.”

Mr Craig said in line with language reflecting research development, once intra-muscular fat measurements and eating quality can be captured effectively, they will be utilised in the adoption of a cuts-based system of quality assessment.

Determining whether a permanent incisor is ‘in wear’ or not is not substantially more difficult to assess, he said.

“When the mouth is closed, I can’t see what is difficult in determining whether the permanent incisor is touching the upper pad of the jaw or if it isn’t; a simple ruler test works.”

Mr Craig said the grain-fed lamb industry is working through the establishment of clear and defined raising claims which will can be used by all brand owners to clearly define their international marketing provenance claims.

“I don’t see how the proposed change in definition has an impact upon raising (provenance) claims.”

On the issue of compliance with transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) protocols, Mr Craig said New Zealand is able to achieve compliance. The SCA’s independent consultant has identified a move to the proposed definition would not risk Australian TSE protocol compliance.

Mr Craig said the lamb definition issue is complex and there are pros and cons on both sides,

“Producers have an opportunity to have their say right now with the public consultation that SCA are doing.”

Producers and anyone with an interest in the lamb definition can have their say until Wednesday November 29. The consultation discussion paper, background information and a link to the online survey are available on the SCA website www.sheepmeatcouncil.com.au/lamb-definition

Click here to read the SCA Lamb Language Public Consultation paper.

Click here to read the Holmes Sackett interim report.

Click here to do the online survey.

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