Beef carcases are classified or graded in accordance with EU Regulations using the EUROP scale for conformation and a scale of 1 to 5 to indicate fat cover. Mechanical grading, which was introduced by the meat industry in 2004, facilitated the use of sub-classes within each main class for both conformation and fat cover in order to give a more precise grade for a beef carcase. Studies at Teagasc Grange have shown that the use of sub-classes, to determine the price paid per kg of carcase, is justified. Indeed, the use of sub-classes, when paying for cattle, sends a clear message back to the farmer on the type of carcase required for the market.
The new quality payment system was introduced in December following intensive negotiations between Meat Industry Ireland (MII) and the IFA. The payment system, which is cost neutral, makes use of sub-classes to determine the price paid. While the price paid for cattle is a commercial matter for the meat industry and the farmers who supply cattle, it is recognised, however, that, for trading purposes, there are variations in the specification required in different markets. The introduction of price differentials, to reward farmers for quality production, sends a strong signal to the supply chain on the need to produce to high standards in line with market demand. It should also contribute to realising an overall improvement in the quality of carcases produced, to providing more animals for the high-priced EU markets and to underpinning Bord Bia's marketing and promotional strategies.
Officials of my Department conduct regular unannounced inspections of meat plants to monitor the accuracy and performance of the grading machines. A total of 472 control visits in meat plants were conducted during 2009, with 45,266 carcases checked during these visits. All data concerning machine checks are stored electronically, which facilitates accurate and comprehensive monitoring of the machine performance. Officials also conduct regular unannounced inspections of meat plants to ensure that the prices paid for cattle are reported accurately in accordance with EU Regulations to my Department.