Disruption will drive opportunity for the red meat sector, meat processors heard at the latest Meat Industry Workshops in Hamilton this year. Twenty-four speakers over two days made 14 and 15 March a very worthwhile time to catch up on the latest meat science advancements and spend time with processing and research colleagues from around the country.
As AgResearch chief executive Dr Tom Richardson told the 105 delegates at the opening of the annual AgResearch Meat Industry Workshop, there is big disruption head for the sector – and it’s moving at pace, with huge investment, towards scale.
“How do we respond?” he asked participants at the Workshop facilitated by Dr Cameron Craigie, AgResearch science impact leader, meat products and supply. “Is there a place to achieve collaboration in the pre-competitive phase before companies go off to do their own thing?”
New director of partnerships and programmes for AgResearch, Stuart Hall – until the middle of last year ANZCO Foods’ general manager sales and marketing – said: “It is a case of asking ‘How do I add value into the value chain? How do we spread that value more equitably and how can we enhance our consumers’ experience?’,” he said.
The Crown Research Institute’s meat research division is one of the fastest growing, Richardson had already noted. With its scientists currently involved in 65 meat-related research projects, AgResearch is uniquely positioned to help as it has huge capability that can be leveraged, said Hall. Because of private conversations he had already had, which cover similar areas, he “genuinely believes” there is an opportunity for meat industry research collaboration in the pre-competitive space, he said.
Safety first: STEC assurance
The Workshop’s morning session was primarily focused on Food Safety & Provenance. It included an update from the AgResearch Food Assurance and Meat Quality team on the raft of important work being carried out throughout the meat supply chain on the top seven shiga toxin producing Escherichia Coli (STEC) bacterial serogroups that can cause severe illness in humans. To date, no case of food-borne illness in New Zealand has been attributed to meat products and any E. coli contaminations have been sourced to on-farm contact. However, STEC is considered a market access risk, particularly for veal exports to the US market, which has a zero tolerance for these particular pathogens.
While the work has found most of the seven STEC serogroups here in New Zealand’s environment, not all carry the toxin gene, and it has isolated the E. coli O26 variant as the one to watch as it is the most environmentally stable and prevalent.
Dr Adrian Cookson’s STEC focus this year has been through an AgResearch Strategic Science Investment (SSI)-funded study on STEC contamination of bobby calves during transport and lairage. The study found no evidence of O26 calf contamination from the truck/lairage but did identify a hotspot at the end of the lairage ramp, he reported. He also questioned whether the use of cold high-pressure hoses to clean out the trucks was effective.
AgResearch SSI/Meat Industry Association funded on-farm research led by AgResearch scientist Dr Delphine Rapp looked at the distribution of 026 and the genetic relationships between the isolated strains on two Waikato dairy farms to find out where calf contamination first occurs. The team found O26 appeared to be at low levels, but more prevalent in summer, the strain was farm-specific and was found on calves and in the environment, on calves bedding and water, in adult cows, birds and flies.
Their colleague, measurement engineer Michelle Challies, followed on with an exploration of hyper-spectral imaging on STEC detection. The aim of her work is to speed up identification so there is limited interruption for plant processes.
Fluorescence: bacterial detection
Dr Marlon Reis reported on the results of a three-year study he has been leading on confinement odour (CO), funded by the AgResearch SSI Fund. The work identified protoporphyrins as the marker to watch for Enterobacteriaceae bacterial growth causing CO, using fluorescence spectrometry. Reis believes the non-invasive test on the lamb itself and on the pack, conducted prior to despatch from the plant, can work in a commercial environment. Next, Reis and his team are moving on to a short-term storage trial to adjust the measuring device, extended chilled storage trials and towards the design of a small prototype for testing.
Later in the day, Auckland University’s Dr Simon Swift – easily picked out of the crowd with his blue beard – talked about new work the microbiologist has been involved in at the Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies. The MBIE-funded FoodSafe Project is working to identify contaminant microbes using fluorescence spectral signatures measured in an optrode – a fibre-optic device capable of measuring fluorescence from SYTO 9 stained cells to count bacterial load in near real time. The hypothesis was that different bacteria will emit spectra with unique signatures. The hope is that swab results will come back faster, in less than an hour compared to 10 days using the 100-year-old heterotrophic plate count method, with improved accuracy.
“We have got some proof of principle and found we can identify bacteria based on the SYT09 emission spectrum,” Swift reports. The team’s next steps are to collect more spectra, through improving machine learning, and to create a library for species identification.
“Get out of container thinking and into retail thinking”
A provoctive, punchy, yet entertaining, presentation led the second Markets and Quality session, and came from KPMG’s farm enterprise expert Julia Jones. The avowed carnivore, talked about adapting for relevance and how disruption is driving opportunity for the red meat sector. She put listening to consumers central to anything the industry does and urged meat companies to: “get out of container thinking and into retail thinking. Our target has to be the premium consumer.”
She predicted alternative proteins will eventually become “just a competitor in the commodity market.”
“With all this disruption, opportunity will not be in commodities,” she said.
The sector needs to be looking at gaining more of the retail value of New Zealand’s overall goods trade, currently $0.25 trillion, rather than simply looking at the $37 billion export value. For that, digital traceability is key, meat companies need to stop competing in market and must earn the margins to do the marketing, she said.
Jones was followed in the same session by a number of AgResearch speakers. These were involved in studies looking at complex beef lipids for metabolic health (Dr Emma Bermingham), the influence a ewe’s diet has on the development of its offspring (Dr Linda Samuelsson), dry-ageing of lean beef (PhD students Frank Zhang and TA Mungure) and the objective measurement of intramuscular fat (Dr Tricia Johnson).
Plastics do have a place in retail meat presentation
Sealed Air’s Brent Baird’s presentation on the pros and cons of plastics in perishable fresh meat applications was timely, given current consumer concerns about single-use plastics and packaging and food waste generally.
Speaking in the first session, Baird mentioned concern about the potential for a “greenwash” of all plastics. He argued new generation plastics are essential for extending the shelf-life of meat products, improving food safety, for protection, enhancing presentation, portion-control and avoiding food waste.
Sealed Air has a circular economy approach, he said, and is working on making materials thinner, and so lighter. It is also “chasing the EU standard” and raising the code for all its plastics to grade one, so they can be recycled back into food packaging.
Processing and value
The final session of the day saw Dr Graham Gardner of Perth-based Murdoch University sharing the Australian industry’s experience of trialling advanced measurement technologies, including dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). This is “promising” on beef and is also making headway in lamb scanning, he said.
Dr Maryann Staincliffe reported on AgResearch development of a new online survey assessments application. This will enable targeting of consumers in a particular geographic location, store all the images and survey information on the same server, save all the survey data in one place and provide a summary of the information.
Alliance Group’s marketing development services manager Gary McLennan had the final words of the AgResearch day on the co-operative’s experience in hosting large numbers of researchers in very busy plants. He concluded most in-plant trails go very well with sufficient planning and resourcing.
“It is critical that processors do engage with science providers and support R&D through access to production facilities,” he believes.
Copies of all of the papers from the Workshop are available on request from Dr Cameron Craigie, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Refreshed MIA R&D strategy coming and new bobby calf app
About 50 of the delegates stayed on for the Meat Industry Association (MIA)’s annual Research and Development Workshop the following day.
MIA Innovation manager Richard McColl explained progress of work on a refresh of the MIA R&D strategy, which is likely to be released after Easter.
“This gives priorities for the industry’s collaborative R&D areas, providing direction for government and research providers,” he says. “It also takes a greater look at areas such as social licence to operate and sustainability to future-proof the sector.”
Participants also got a first glance of the new bobby calf-tracking application, designed for use by all members of the value chain, including farmers, transporters and processors, and being trialled at four meat plants during the autumn calving season.
The app is an MIA project that sprung out of work by the bobby calf working group, chaired by McColl. It essentially replaces a paper-based system introduced 12 months ago. Designed by QCONZ, the easy-to-use app features drop down menus to enable use on farm and by transporters – once they have confirmed the health of the animals being loaded – to advise the processor of the numbers of calves to expect and the estimated time of arrival so they can have yards and amenities ready and waiting, he explains. The app also gives feedback directly to farmer suppliers. If any calves are unfit for transport, the farmer can also be advised they were not transported.
Other updates were given on nine MIA Innovation projects looking at: decontamination risk, quorum sensing, lamb colour, ultimate pH, TSN for chillers, smartphones, an ultrasonic knife and other emerging technologies.
There was also an update on progress on the work of the new Food Safety Science Research Centre led by Professor Nigel French, including news of the start of construction of the new joint Food Science Centre in Palmerston North, which will feature a mini meat processing plant.
Red Meat Sector Conference v8
Delegates from throughout the red meat sector will be drawn to Napier this year on Sunday 29 and Monday 30 July for the eighth Red Meat Sector Conference. The programme is currently being drawn up and sponsors sought. More information next issue and at www.redmeatsector.co.nz.
This article appeared in Food NZ magazine (April/May 2018) and is reproduced here with permission.