The Swedish meat industry is at the forefront of sustainability and animal husbandry; however, in terms of meat quality, countries such as the United States and Australia are far ahead. Knowledge of meat quality is low and, in order to increase quality, there is a need for a labelling system that covers the entire supply chain, from farmer to consumer and all points in between. RISE is currently participating in an EU-funded research project together with agriculture and meat industry to increase the eating quality of beef and lamb and create a more demand-driven meat production.
There are many reasons to choose Swedish meat; for example, in Sweden we are world leaders in animal husbandry and Swedish meat production has a small carbon footprint compared to production in other parts of the world. That said, the eating quality of Swedish meat is generally uneven and today very limited sorting of meat takes place based on different eating qualities. There is no clear labeling system for meat based on eating quality similar to that found in Australia, where a highly developed labeling system helps the consumer to choose the right piece of meat for their preferences.
“The Swedish system is not built around parameters for eating quality,” explains RISE senior researcher Cecilia Lindahl. “The production of beef in Sweden is heterogeneous with everything from producers who conduct a small hobby business with a few animals to professional producers who have hundreds of animals. In addition, the animal material that goes to slaughter varies when a large part of the beef comes from milk production, such as young bulls and older dairy cows, and a smaller part comes from dairy production with different meat breeds. The quality of the meat that reaches the consumer is therefore very uneven.”
Measuring meat quality on live animals
The marbling in meat, i.e. the intramuscular fat, contributes to the juiciness, flavour and perceived tenderness of the meat. Meat from Swedish cattle has relatively little marbling and our price structuring does nothing to encourage an increase; quite the contrary. Slaughterhouses charge by weight and meat with a lot of marbling and fat is therefore more expensive to process. If wholesalers and consumers are unwilling to pay more for meat with a higher eating quality, then this equation does not add up.
“The Swedish cattle have a relatively low marbling and the slaughterhouses' current payment system generally does not reward an increased marbling”, says Cecilia Lindahl. “However, individual slaughterhouses have added marbling as a basis for payment and the project also examines how a payment system that also considers eating quality could be designed.”
Meat quality needs to be rewarded
Slaughterhouses charge on the basis of the weight of the carcass, the form and fat class and a carcass with a lot of surface fat is deducted regardless of whether the meat itself has a high quality with a lot of marbling. However, the entire chain prizes high meat quality, because if the wholesalers and consumers are not willing to pay more for meat with higher eating quality, the equation does not go together.
“As long as the consumer does not know how to choose a meat with higher eating quality, they will not pay more for it. Today, many choose a lean piece of meat with as little visible fat as possible, which is not optimal from an eating quality perspective as much of the taste and juiciness is linked to the fat. We see an increased interest in eating quality in Sweden, but generally the knowledge about meat quality needs to increase both among consumers and retail staff. A labeling system for eating quality and a price that is better linked to the quality of the meat can make it easier for everyone to make more conscious choices”, says Cecilia Lindahl.
Fact: Demand-driven innovation for higher quality of beef and lamb
This is a three-year EU-funded project with the aim of creating better conditions for beef and lamb producers in the region Västra Götaland (Sweden), North and Central Jutland (Denmark). The project is a collaboration between research, agriculture and industry that works within the meat industry. In the project, we focus on increasing knowledge about good eating quality and ethical quality from breeders to consumers.
Partners in the project are AgroVäst, the Ecological Country Association, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Aarhus University, RISE, SEGES, Svenska Köttföretagen and Swedish meat. The project is financed by Interreg ÖKS and the Västra Götaland region.