Trust through technology?

The introduction of Visual Image Analysis (VIA) machines at UK meat plants would improve transparency and trust

and a move to one type of machine would greatly assist the process, NFU livestock board chairman Thomas Binns said today.

Binns was speaking following a meeting in Ireland of the livestock board chairmen of the British and Irish farming unions and a visit to the Kepack plant to see their VIA machine grading cattle.

He said: "It's generally accepted by Irish farmers that VIA has improved the consistency of beef carcase classification, and improved transparency and trust. Its introduction was generously supported by government, which recognised the improvements this technology could bring.

"We already recognise that there are price differentials between the north and south of the UK for the same grade of cattle and this must be addressed. Any technology that can improve efficiency and transparency must be worthy of immediate consideration.

"These machines are also able to measure and deliver the meat yield of the carcass, which has the potential to reward producers who provide the supply chain with utilisable meat and help farmers in better selection.

"We would like to see the UK levy boards come together and trial a number of machines in a single plant and then move forward with a single machine that will be used across the whole country. This would be a useful stepping stone in building confidence and transparency for producers."

Mr Binns said once the machines were introduced there would still need to be regular independent assessments to ensure consistency was maintained.

Guy Attenborough, head of communications at the MLC, responded to Binns' comments. He said: "The red meat levy boards have just completed a trial of VIA for sheep. The results will be presented to industry bodies at a meeting on 9 May and the full report published later that same day.

"And as the NFU is well aware, an industry/levy board beef VIA meeting is already planned for the afternoon of 9 May at at MLC's offices in Milton Keynes. The aim is to update the industry on background issues, provide a resume of available VIA machines and to discuss the role of levy-funding for future development trials."

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