Consumers want beef that is safe, nutritious and of predictable eating quality. Beef traits should match these expectations. Two recently published papers reviewed research into predicting beef quality.

The first one, entitled “Beef-eating quality: a European journey”, described a range of instrumental and grading approaches with potential implications for the European beef industry. Instrumental and spectroscopic techniques have the potential to be implemented on the processing line to non-destructively measure muscle pH, colour, fat and moisture contents. They also allow the non-destructive accumulation of information on the chemical and physical properties of meat samples.

Attempts have been developed to use similar approaches to predict eating quality and fatty composition of beef, but the prediction still needs to be improved. The prediction of flavour is a challenge regardless of instrumental or statistical analysis used.

Existing beef grading systems are generally related to yield and are based on animal sex and carcass traits such as weight, conformation and/or fatness. European conformation and fatness scores of carcasses have only a weak relationship with eating quality, explaining the poor relationship between the selling price of beef and its tenderness. Grading systems such as the USDA and other national systems, as well as those implemented by individual retailers, attempt to predict the eating quality of carcasses based on animal traits and measurements of pH, colour and marbling. However, consumers obviously buy and eat individual cuts and not raw carcasses. Furthermore, the relationship between the eating qualities of the cuts of the same carcass is poor, underlying the importance of grading cuts rather than carcasses. This is the principle of the Meat Standards Australia (MSA) grading scheme, which predicts eating quality for each “cut x cooking method” combination to better satisfy consumers. The prediction is based on a combination of upstream and downstream predictors such as animal sex and age, marbling, hot carcass weight and fatness, ageing time, etc.. Furthermore, the MSA system is flexible enough to allow existing official quality signs and commercial brands to be consolidated by using the MSA methodology.

Recent progress in the development of the MSA grading scheme has been presented in the second review paper entitled “The variability of the eating quality of beef can be reduced by predicting consumer satisfaction”. This paper reported a transnational study based on over 19,000 consumers from Northern Ireland, Poland, Ireland, France and Australia, who scored, using MSA testing protocols, a total of 22 different muscles, from a great variability of European bovines and cooked by four different methods with various degrees of doneness. Consumers scored beef eating quality and then allocated samples to unsatisfactory, good-every-day, better-than-every-day or premium classes. As in Australia and other countries, about 70% of samples were allocated to the correct quality grades using the MSA predicting model. Only 7% of the beef unsatisfactory to consumers was misclassified as acceptable, whereas all unsatisfactory samples represented initially 26% of the total. Thus, by using the MSA approach, the chances of a consumer having a negative eating experience would decrease from 26% to 7%, which would be hugely beneficial to the beef industry.

consumers are willing to pay more for a better quality beef. Consumer scores are
also consistent between different European demographic groups of consumers. Although
significant effects do exist between consumer groups, the differences are small
and are unlikely to affect the accuracy of the MSA grading system in Europe.

In conclusion, a new European grading scheme, based on the same principles as the MSA system, could be used to predict beef eating quality in Europe and hence underpin commercial brands and official quality labels. This system would need to be flexible to adapt to developing needs and simple at the point of operation. Ultimately, beef production is funded by consumers and meeting their expectations is essential for the future of the beef industry. Such a consumer-driven system is likely to change the economic model of the beef supply chain to generate economic benefits and therefore to guarantee better incomes for farmers and the entire supply chain.

Read both articles for free in the Special Topic: Beef eating quality in Volume 12 – Issue 11 of the journal animal

Beef-eating quality: a European journey by, L. J. Farmer and D. T. Farrell

The variability of the eating quality of beef can be reduced by predicting consumer satisfaction by, S. P. F. Bonny, J.-F. Hocquette, D. W. Pethick, I. Legrand, J. Wierzbicki, P. Allen, L. J. Farmer, R. J. Polkinghorne and G. E. Gardner