From day one, Meat Standards Australia has operated under a "no industry politics" philosophy.

Empty chair runsmeat eating quality venture

PRODUCERS were enthusiastic about an eating quality program from the day it was launched, according to MSA pioneer Dr Rod Polkinghorne.

However, there was big pushback from processors, who saw it as too difficult and costly, and weren’t convinced the consumer insight work was accurate.

Early processor adopters sold their product to butcher shops and food service operators, who came straight back asking for more because customer complaints quickly dried up.

That led to premiums.

As those advantages become clear to other processors, MSA adoption spread.

On the supermarket front, there was strong support at a research level but holding things back was the issue of how they could differentiate within the program.

“When Woolworths came on board around 2005, it pushed big numbers into MSA,” Dr Polkinghorne said.

By 2010 it had become difficult to sell meat without the MSA mark.

Key to the success of MSA, according to Dr Polkinghorne, has been staying true to what the consumer and the data says.

“We had to adopt a ‘take no prisoners’ approach,” he said. 

“From day one, we said there is to be no industry politics entered into.

“We’ve managed to hold that line although there has been blood spilt to do it.”

At MSA pathway meetings, an empty chair representing the consumer was always sat at the table.

“We’d refer to that empty chair constantly and whatever was coming from the consumer, that’s the end of it,” Dr Polkinghorne said. 

“In the first 10 years, it was the early adopters getting behind it and then spikes occurred as big processing groups joined,” said MSA project manager Sarah Strachan.

While standards are constantly evolving as science comes to hand, criteria such as a pH window and three millimetre fat on the rib have remained, together with marbling and ossification, although the calculations have been continually refined and the number of muscles and cooking methods considerably expanded.

Compliance, meanwhile, had constantly improved over the 20 years of MSA, Ms Strachan said.

“Growth in grading in recent years has primarily come from existing processors rather than new participants,” she said.

“This indicates that those who have been involved are expanding grading within their business, clearly seeing value in the program.

“What is growing exponentially in this space is brands.

“There are now 156 brands underpinned by MSA, the majority in beef.”

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