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Stackyard News May 06

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Industry Leaders View New Carcase Screening System

A groundbreaking Video Image Analysis (VIA) system being trialled for objectively evaluating sheep carcases was shown to farming industry leaders at Welsh Country Foods in Anglesey on Friday.

The VIA system, the first sheep unit based in the UK, may contribute to efficiency and consistency by assessing sheep carcase classification and meat yield, with the additional aim of increasing industry confidence in classification.

The project, managed by Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC), is jointly funded by Hybu Cig Cymru - Meat Promotion Wales (HCC), English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX), Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and the Livestock and Meat Commission Northern Ireland (LMC), with support from Welsh Country Foods and E+V Systems.

The new system was well-received with many of those present believing that it has the potential to deliver greater farmer confidence in classification, which is the basis for farmer payment in many abattoir businesses.

"Current sheep classification systems are dependent on subjective, visual assessment and this often leads to queries within the industry," said Prys Morgan, Industry Development Manager for Hybu Cig Cymru.

"It has been a long-term aim to find an objective system which would give farmers more confidence in the consistency of the sheep carcase classification scheme."

The VIA system is being evaluated over a 5-month period to check out the system's ability to predict carcase classification with that of an expert panel. Additionally, meat yield predictions are being developed with yield data from carcases. The final report is expected to be published this Autumn.

Notes In the UK, sheep carcases are assessed visually to establish their fat class on a one to five scale and conformation using the EUROP grid.

Unlike beef and pig schemes, sheep carcase classification is not mandatory within the EU and there are no regulatory standards and/or legislative requirements. In the UK sheep carcases are classified using a scheme developed by the Meat and Livestock Commission.

Sheep carcases are currently classified by visual assessment by MLC's independent authentication services or by staff employed directly by an abattoir. In Northern Ireland, classification is undertaken by the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC).

For the past 20 years, MLC has evaluated numerous objective devices, both under research conditions and in commercial plants. This research came to the conclusion (following work in the in the early 90's) that VIA offered the most potential. Trials were undertaken in UK plants, which demonstrated that accuracy levels for conformation were broadly in line with expectation but prediction of fat class, particularly in fatter carcases, fell short of what was required. At this time it was felt that further development was required before VIA would meet the accuracy levels required to classify sheep carcases.

Since this work was undertaken there has been significant investment in VIA technology, which is now widely used, particularly in the manufacturing industry as a quality control tool. Camera technology has also improved, enabling better quality images to be captured in a much shorter time.

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