An updated version of the VBS200 mechanical grading machine for beef is now operational in 22 meat factories across the Republic of Ireland. The roll out of the upgraded machine took place between October and the middle of December 2021.
These machines are equipped with a superior digital camera and LED lighting had been trialled in Ireland during 2018 and 2019 and were authorised by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM).
Roll out of the new machines was deferred until October 2021 due to the COVID-19 restrictions that have been in place since March 2020.
The DAFM told the Irish Farmers Journal that: “During this eight-week roll-out period, seven officers of the carcase classification division of DAFM monitored the performance of each individual classification machine, post-installation, before it was approved for commercial use.
“During this monitoring exercise, over 7,500 carcasses across the 22 factories were classified by DAFM officers and their results were compared against the modernised technology to ensure that the modernised classification machine was operating within the legal parameters.
“Further-enhanced monitoring of the classification system is planned post installation.”
Upgrading the original grading machines which were introduced in 2004 is long overdue.
While they were perfectly functional, they were using old analogue technology and could be likened to the comparison between modern television pictures with what was available 20 years ago.
The need for consistent carcase grading is to ensure that there is a consistent way to measure prices paid to farmers across all member states of the European Union. There is a valid debate to be had on the merits of the EUROP classification system in the 21st century as it is a legacy of EU purchasing of beef for interventions.
However, its strength is that it is consistent and understood across the EU.
Carcase classification or grading was historically carried out by Department staff, but this was judged to be a stage aid and therefore an alternative had to be found. An option of using factory staff to deliver a service but there is widespread preference for machine based grading as it removes the possibility of personal preference or bias.
When introduced 16 years ago, it took some time to win farmer confidence, but it is now accepted as part of the factory structure.
Regular inspections are carried out by DAFM officials to ensure that machines are consistently grading to the official standard and importantly to monitor that factories are not over trimming carcases prior to weighing.