Consumers should be focus: scientist

Kate MatthewsCountryman

Now is the time more than ever to focus on the consumer, according to agricultural scientist Dave Pethick, of Murdoch University.

"When things are going well you focus on the consumer," Professor Pethick told producers at a recent WA Q Lamb back to basics information day.

He said that lamb was at record prices, increasing 340 per cent over the past 15 years, and world supply was low.

At the same time, domestic lamb consumption was solid and there was strong demand from export markets.

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He said Meat and Livestock Australia research showed consumers loved the flavour of lamb, saying it was tender and juicy and equal to beef.

Professor Pethick said that in 1997 only 39 per cent of consumers had said lamb was tender and juicy, now it was up to 67 per cent of respondents.

They were also realising lamb was healthy and low in fat, but 90 per cent still cut off fat before cooking.

This meant producers needed to deliver what consumers wanted - lamb with lean meat yield, good eating qualities and meat that was a valuable source of nutrients. To do this, Professor Pethick said producers could select genetic traits for lean meat yield.

"There is a 2 per cent decrease in lean meat yield for every increase in fat score and fat scores two to three are important for efficiency at abattoirs," he said.

On retail shelves, cutlets on special often had more fat left on them.

The solution was to look at Lambplan breeding values for growth, muscle and fat when selecting sires.

Professor Pethick said that next on the agenda could be a breeding value for hindquarters.

To measure lean meat yield in the supply chain, through the Sheep CRC and information nucleus, he said that researchers were testing the Carometec fat-o-meter probe, made by a Danish company. The probe measured the C site and muscle depth and was being tested at sites across Australia.

Professor Pethick said that while some abattoirs measured lean meat yield manually, others, such as WAMMCO, used Viascan. The fat-o-meter could help smaller processors make more accurate measurements.

Just as important as lean meat yield was quality and the plan now, according to Professor Pethick, was to evolve to a new model - MSA Mark II. He said this model would provide tools to help producers manage tenderness, shear force and intramuscular fat which produced the juicy flavour.

"The ideal value for IMF is 4-6 per cent of fat and the current average for crossbred lambs when the dad is a terminal sire is 4.3 per cent," Professor Pethick said.

With IMF, the new trait to correlate, researchers also wanted to develop a breeding value for consumer satisfaction.

While it was not possible to grade every lamb carcase, Professor Pethick said the cheapest option was to use the sire as the underpinning caveat because IMF was highly heritable.

Cuts would be graded into two stars for unsatisfactory, three stars for good every day, four stars for better than every day and five stars for premium.

Professor Pethick said that an early indication from a test on 1858 Sydney consumers showed they were happy to pay a higher price as quality increased.

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