NZ farmer-owned co-op uses AI tool for red meat quality analysis

Wednesday, 06 December, 2023

NZ farmer-owned co-op uses AI tool for red meat quality analysis

New Zealand red meat co-operative Alliance Group (Alliance) has partnered with MEQ to roll out artificial intelligence technology designed to identify eating quality in beef and lamb across its plant network.

The 100% farmer-owned co-operative strives to create the best market value for its red meat and co-products, while providing high-yielding meat processing when its farmer shareholders need it.

The partnership will allow Alliance to use MEQ's lamb and beef probes, which are powered by machine learning and artificial intelligence to measure the intramuscular fat (IMF) levels in lamb and marbling percentages in beef.

The technology is designed to provide a real-time view of the eating quality of the meat produced across Alliance’s plant network. IMF and ageing are believed to be the two largest contributors to the sensory experience when eating quality meat.

The probes have been industry-accredited by AUS-MEAT and use a combination of spectral analysis and AI to measure IMF in a carcass at the beginning of processing to capture a ‘fingerprint’ within a loin muscle.

The solution is designed to provide the co-operative with objective measurable data to give farmers visibility about the quality of meat they are supplying, enabling farmers to make informed decisions about breeding programs and feed, leading to more sustainable livestock management.

Alliance has been trialling the technology at its Smithfield (Timaru) and Pukeuri (Oamaru) plants over the past nine months.

Willie Wiese, Alliance chief executive, said, “Quality farming and quality processes are integral to Alliance’s promise of delivering only the best red meat to the world.

“Our farmers are always hungry for detailed information about the quality of their animals because ultimately higher IMF and marbling readings translate into greater returns for them and the co-operative. In pasture-based livestock production systems, IMF has a strong correlation with polyunsaturated fat including Omega fatty acids. High IMF levels represent healthy fats, which are good for nutrition.”

MEQ technology will enable Alliance to deliver IMF feedback to farmers, which can provide benefits across the supply chain and to end users.

“It will enable us to build up and scale our premium programs, which is a growing part of our business, and allow us to further differentiate our product offering to target consumers,” Wiese said.

MEQ’s probe technology does not require carcasses to be chilled to measure IMF or marbling. This will give Alliance more time to determine cut design plans and optimise carcass value and allocation into branded ranges. The technology therefore saves on chiller space and reduces energy consumption.

Remo Carbone, MEQ CEO, said his company was pleased to be providing Alliance with real-time, data-backed insights.

“Our AI-powered technology is unique in the way that it slots in seamlessly within processors’ existing infrastructure, but monumentally increases optimisation from herd and mob management all the way to chiller space at the point of carcass breakdown — the information gathered by the probes has transformative implications for each stage of the process.”

Image credit: iStock.com/Juanmonino

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