Scientist to target lamb eating quality

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Meat processor Thomas Foods International is embracing data analysis as a new tool in its processing operation in order to provide better feedback to sheep producers and ensure consumers receive the highest quality lamb.

In partnership with the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC), the South Australian company has appointed senior scientist Dr David Rutley as their lamb supply chain coordinator.

Dr Rutley's role will include benchmarking performance across the supply chain, with particular focus on quantifying value, meat quality, eating quality, lean meat yield and optimal fat levels.

"Thomas Foods has a history and culture of investing in innovative practices to streamline our operation and allow us to serve our customers better - Dr Rutley's appointment will form a key part of that approach," manager Paul Leonard said. "Dr Rutley's work will include a major focus on training producers and staff and connecting them with feedback from consumers."

Thomas Foods has attracted Dr Rutley from the University of Adelaide, where he taught research methodology as well as undertaking research funded through the Australian Research Council and Sheep CRC.Dr Rutley gained his PhD from the University of Adelaide, developing novel approaches to animal selection and marketing.

He has analysed data for a number of Sheep CRC research projects, including the Information Nucleus Flock. Most recently Dr Rutley has determined genetic correlations between lamb survival and meat quality traits such as shear force, an indicator of tenderness; intra-muscular fat, similar to marbling in beef; and lean meat yield, the per cent of lean meat on a carcass.

Concepts such as 'Distance to Ideal' and 'Carcass Consistency' have been trialled by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) in their project 'Regional Beef Systems to meet Market Specifications'.

Sheep CRC chief executive James Rowe said the appointment was part of the CRC's and MLA's on-going collaboration with the meat processing sector.

"We want to take this work to the next level as part of the five-year plan for an extension to the the Sheep CRC, which includes specific plans to develop value-based trading of sheepmeat," Prof Rowe said. "The importance of meeting this challenge has been recognised by Thomas Foods, as well as other processors, producers and retailers, who have committed their support to the CRC extension application.

"In the proposed extension the Sheep CRC aims to improve the efficiency of the sheepmeat value chain through application of new knowledge and technologies that provide accurate prediction of eating quality and saleable yield of retail cuts.

"The same research solutions developed for lamb supply chains will be used to create opportunities for currently undervalued heavier lean lamb and yearling Merino carcases."

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