To The Editor
I refer to Dr. Marjorie Orr's article posted on your site recently; a number of statements are made that in my view are not correct. The first one being the headline "Why is home-kill meat so much better than meat from the works?"
In my view, that headline is completely incorrect; however, before I go further I should declare my background. I am a butcher by trade and for a number of years owned and operated a chain of four stores. For the past 19 years, I have been CEO of Beef + Lamb New Zealand Inc based in Auckland. We are responsible for the promotion of beef and lamb in New Zealand. So one could say I have a vested interest. While of course, I do, it does not change the following facts.
Firstly by "better" what are we actually saying? My interpretation is that we are talking about quality which is:
- Better tenderness
- Better food safety
- Better appearance – grading, fat cover, etc
- Better animal welfare
There is a misconception amongst most farmers that home-kill meat is more tender. I categorically refute this. With the introduction of the New Zealand Beef and Lamb Quality Mark in 1997, this organisation has continually tested the tenderness of beef and lamb. Results have consistently shown tender product. To put that in perspective consumer testing has shown 9kgF is seen as the tender benchmark (shear force denotes the level of force required to bite through the meat). Anything below or above 9kgF is tender or tougher. The standards for the Quality Mark specify product must be 7kgF or below. I can report that all of our testing (with the odd exception) is showing results in most cases below 7kgF which means all those in the supply chain are playing their part in producing a tender product; of note is the controlled chilling regime applied by processors post-slaughter.
Better food safety
This of course is key. We are dealing with a perishable product. There are very strict audited controls around food safety in the commercial processing of beef and lamb. There are none for home-kill. The biggest difference between home-kill and commercial slaughter and processing is that with commercial slaughter there are significantly greater controls over processing hygiene and associated microbial contamination levels and greater controls over carcass chilling and cold chain in general. It is true that the looser cold chain controls with home-kill will generate a faster rate of tenderness development however with good process hygiene associated with commercial slaughter and modern barrier vacuum packaging technologies we have the ability to hold meat cuts chilled for an extended period of time to age in the bag.
The issue of the illegal sale of home-kill meat is a major one in this country. Dr. Orr rightly points out that home-killed meat cannot be sold.
All beef and lamb processed for the local market must be below 5.8pH to qualify for the New Zealand Beef and Lamb Quality Mark. Above 6pH, the meat starts to become dark and sticky. Nationwide the incidence of high pH (6.0pH or higher) at commercial works is approximately 5%.
Better animal welfare
Dr. Orr highlights animal welfare issues, in particular swim-washing at the processing plant. Multiple swim washing is now rarely carried out at the works. In fact, many plants do not swim-wash at all. Most plants work with the farmers to ensure stock is clean before leaving the farm. And all responsible farmers, I am sure, do all they can to make sure stock leaves the farm in a clean condition. Time off feed is generally well controlled with the main aim to reduce gut fill and prevent microbial contamination. Animals are well rested in yards prior to processing.
So to summarise in a sentence, it is just not correct to state that home-kill meat is better than commercial processed meat.
Beef + Lamb New Zealand Inc