Thursday, December 3, 2009

THE WAY FORWARD UNDER NEW BEEF LABELLING LEGISLATION

The Cow Beef Debate

Subject to an MSA integrity review it is proposed that the “Budget” category for cuts of beef from animals with eight teeth would only include product that does not make the lowest MSA grade, and is not mince or tenderloin.

As Rod Polkinghorne, the Founder and current Chairman of Meat Standards Australia Committee says the cuts of beef from old cows that fail to MSA grade will not eat well however cooked.

Those opposing Torbay’s Bill and calling for a “Budget Grade” descriptor from beef from old cows generally don’t mention the proposed exemption of MSA graded cuts from old cows from the budget labelling requirements.

The reality is that only beef cuts that ‘Fail to Grade’ and won’t eat well however cooked will be required to be labelled “Low Quality” or “Low Grade” Budget under Torbay’s Bill. In these circumstances the term “Budget Grade” appears to be misnomer and a description that would continue to mislead and deceive consumers.

RMAC chairman Ian McIvor has said that the labelling of poor quality meat as “low grade” will not improve sale volumes and will simply turn customers away. Apparently RMAC’s solution to declining beef consumption in Australia is to sell more low quality meat to consumers, and to package it in a way that makes it seem more appealing than it is.

The claim by journalist, John Condon in the Queensland Country Life (29 October 2009) that the quantity of beef from 8-tooth animals sold onto the Australian domestic market is not significant is logically inconsistent with his claim two weeks later that branding cheap cuts of meat as “Low Quality” or “Low Grade” was “marketing suicide”.

If the amount of cow beef sold to the Australian domestic market was insignificant the Torbay Bill would have little effect on the industry and there would be no need for overdramatic “Beef Suicide” headlines.

Domestic Retail Beef Register

AUS-MEAT has released a new Domestic Retail Beef Register designed to allow trade description information to be accurately converted to applicable descriptors for retail sale to consumers.

The register will work in conjunction with Torbay’s Bill to create a legislatively backed, consumer friendly truth in labelling system for beef products in NSW.

Rod Polkinghorne made the following comments about section 4.2 of the Register which refers to Budget Grade Beef :

“The section clearly states the Budget Grade does not guarantee any eating quality but I wonder whether this will be obvious to a consumer when it is listed as a grade, the only equivalent being MSA grades. Will they just think that “a grade is a grade”?

“…The notion that ‘such product has practical uses including slow cook options’ is mostly false. There is plenty of product that has failed the consumer test when tested under slow cooking. Slow cooking may give a better result than grilling but it will not guarantee a satisfactory result.

“…My principal concern would be that we may in fact raise recognition of Budget Grade due to it being referred to as a grade and possibly confused with an eating quality claim.”

The Way Forward

The Torbay legislation can be used as a model for the implementation of similar labelling systems in other states, which will be a topic for discussion when the Primary Industries Ministerial Council meets in April next year.

The other States will have an incentive to introduce similar labelling systems.

It would be incongruous for New South Wales consumers to have the benefit of truth in labelling legislation so that they knew the quality of the “Budget” beef that they are purchasing before they make their decision to buy whilst consumers in the other States had to continue to engage in a lucky dip with a good steak one week and a bad steak the next.

If the other States don’t follow suit it is likely that cow beef previously sold in New South Wales will be redirected to Queensland and Victoria where retailers could continue to get away with misleading and deceptive descriptions for poor quality cow beef.

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