MIA Matters: Social licence to operate new R&D priority for red meat processing

Richard McColl, MIA
Richard McColl, MIA.

Investment in collaborative research focused on the red meat processing sector’s ‘social licence to operate’ and development of a sustainable meat plant of the future are among new research and development priorities for industry, writes Meat Industry Association (MIA) innovation manager Richard McColl.

Our sector is a dynamic, highly competitive export industry supporting a large regional-based workforce. In the year ended December 2016, New Zealand red meat and co-products made up 14 percent of primary sector exports and were valued at $6.7 billion. We know global demand for high-quality protein is increasing rapidly and with a reputation for the highest standards of food safety and integrity, our sector is poised to drive growth in jobs and export revenues and maintain consistent profitability across the sector. However, in the face of challenges such as changing land-use and market access costs, the sector has struggled to maintain profitability. For that reason, innovation is critical to improve our profitability and sustainability.

The revised Research & Development Strategy (RDS) was developed over 2017 to guide and inform the future development of red meat R&D by the Meat Industry Research and Development Forum. This is a collaboration between industry, government ministries and research providers and was approved in April by the MIA Council.

It has been designed to both identify investment priorities and drive a collaborative approach to industry-good research and development within the sector and the wider research community.

Taking account of current work and future research needs, the RDS recognises a shift in priorities for the sector from the previous 2016 strategy. Its vision is to create an R&D environment that will significantly advance productivity, sustainability and our future focus.

The key aim of the RDS is to future-proof the sector. For that reason, sustainability has been recognised as a separate and core collaborative investment priority that will help us to earn ‘social licence to operate’. This covers addressing health and safety, animal welfare, environmental stewardship and customer/market-based issues.

To lift meat processing productivity the vision is that, by 2021, we will have a viable plan for the development of the sustainable meat plant of the future and that we will also understand what the impact alternative proteins will have on red meat processing.

Meanwhile, MIA Innovation will continue to drive the sector’s collaborative R&D programme to increase product value, through: extending shelf-life, improving the use of and returns from co-products and updating nutritional composition data; improving processing technology, including automated solutions; food safety and security; and making sure New Zealand’s unique and world-leading meat science capability is maintained and new capability developed.

Eight critical areas have been identified for collaborative investment focus by the RDS. Four – animal welfare, environmental stewardship, food safety and regulatory requirements and processing productivity – are viewed as essential requirements under-pinning high-quality processing operations.

With the completion of the Ovine Automation Ltd programme at the end of last year, the focus for productivity now shifts to developing a vision for 2036, preventing early onset of spoilage will be the goal for product quality research, while opportunities will continue to be sought to lift revenue within co-product streams.

The RDS will guide the approximately $1.2 million spent each year into areas which have been agreed are vital for the meat processing sector’s future. It’s an exciting time for meat innovation.

MIA members can view the strategy at www.mia.co.nz.

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