An updated version of the VBS 2000 mechanical grading machine has been approved for use across the UK.

The machine uses visual imaging analysis (VIA) to assess the conformation and fat class of cattle at slaughter, across the seven major abattoirs in NI, as well as a number of factories in Britain.

Mechanical grading has been in place in NI factories since early in 2011.

However, the current machines rely on old technology, such as analogue cameras. With stocks depleted, there has been a pressing need to approve an updated VBS 2000 machine that relies on digital cameras and new lighting systems.

It is understood DAERA inspectors began that process in 2021. A UK-wide “modification approval trial” has now been completed across a number of abattoir sites, including Dunbia in NI, as well as various factories in Britain. This work involved a second machine that utilised the new technology being temporarily fitted at each premise.

The next stage will be to install and licence the new machines at individual abattoirs. In NI that process falls on DAERA inspectors, working alongside factory owners and the technology supplier.

Back in 2011 the grading machines were supplied by German company, E+V Technology GmbH. However, in April 2023 the E+V business was sold to Marel, an Icelandic-based company that provides food processing equipment across the globe (see page 33).

Sources in the trade maintain that they would like the updated machines to be operating in the first quarter of 2024, and ideally they would all come on stream on the same day. Whether that is possible, remains unclear.

Republic of Ireland

Abattoirs in the Republic of Ireland have already been through the process, with a modification trial undertaken at Slaney Foods in Wexford during 2018 and 2019.

The trial showed that the new machine was operating at greater levels of accuracy than existing technology. Irish factories switched over to new digital machines at the end of 2021.

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