Comment: Adding value to New Zealand red meat

AgResearch senior scientist John Mills updating participants on his team's work on meat spoilage bacteria.

Last week, Ali Spencer attended the AgResearch Meat Industry Workshop, part of a two-day red meat industry research and development symposium.

Despite claims to the contrary from individuals outside the industry, it seems there is plenty of work going on to add value to New Zealand’s meat products. The day showcased three current themes being undertaken in meat research in New Zealand: adding value, getting value from quality and food provenance and assurance.

The programme included an impressive array of speakers, 20 in total followed by another 10 or so at the following day’s Meat Industry Association’s closed R&D Workshop. As their predecessors in the Meat Industry Research Institute of New Zealand (MIRINZ) did, it’s apparent that today’s AgResearch scientists are still contributing to New Zealand, and global, understanding of the science behind red meat.

We’ll have more on the day later on, but the presented material at the workshops included work adding value to New Zealand meat by finding out exactly what differentiates New Zealand meat from its competitors, understanding what Asian consumers really want from their top selling item, the effect of cooking on meat proteins, lamb colour, what the optimum fat levels are and how to extract value from what were once considered waste streams from meat processing, now seen as raw material for valuable new products – meaning less waste and more value from every carcase. Other work is looking at how to use food processing technologies to turn low-value cuts into high-value products, how to use state-of-the-art non-invasive technology to predict the quality of the meat in the processing plant, what happens in the meat when it is subjected to high pressure processing, controls for STEC (shiga-toxin producing E.coli), how to deal with spoilage bacteria and also confinement odours in vacuum packaging. Yet more research is focused on new ways to protect New Zealand meat’s integrity in offshore markets by using technology to prove the provenance of meat, improving the cartons in which New Zealand meat is exported and keeping up with consumers’ changing expectations of animal welfare. The final presenter, Mark Loeffen of Delytics Ltd, showed how processors can extract even more value from the mass of data they collect in their everyday activities.

The more work that was presented, the more ideas were sparked over conversations in the breaks between the 100+ attendees from the major meat companies, food companies, engineering firms and researchers.

The workshop was a mere snapshot of the work going on behind the scenes in New Zealand on adding value to meat industry products. Although there were also speakers from outside AgResearch, it didn’t cover every single on-going project in the industry. There are, of course, other projects in the substantial Primary Growth Partnership projects, in partnership with the Ministry for Primary Industries. These are aimed at improving New Zealand’s red meat offering and are led by ANZCO Foods (FoodPlus), Silver Fern Farms (FarmIQ), Alliance Group (Targeting New Wealth with High Health) and Firstlight Foods (Wagyu Beef), plus the Red Meat Profit Partnership led by Beef + Lamb NZ Ltd and the Passion2Profit programme led by Deer Industry New Zealand. In addition, there is plenty of work ongoing at the various Food Hubs, through Massey University, the Riddet Institute, Lincoln University, the Universities of Auckland and Otago, Scion and via funders such as Callaghan Innovation and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

All of the work is engaged into making a natural product even better and adding value to it. Missing this year, perhaps, was research into what the New Zealand red meat industry is doing to counter, or even embrace, the emerging disruptive technologies of alternative proteins. Next year, perhaps?

It was well worth attending to appreciate the scope of the work underway. If you get an invitation for next March, do make a note to attend.



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