Meat Industry Research Institute of New Zealand

We are more than a decade down the track from when the “Meat Industry Research Institute of New Zealand” (MIRINZ) joined with AgResearch Ltd.

AgResearch is New Zealand’s largest Crown Research Institute (CRI), and its R&D covers the complete spectrum of pastorally based produce from genomics and conception to consumption and environmental issues. The previous MIRINZ capability slots in well between the “farm gate and the customer’s plate”, where it always did. However, in many ways this is enhanced with the huge capability of the AgResearch organisation behind it.

As with the old MIRINZ, a “one-stop-shop” for process related projects and developments has been maintained.

One of the obvious changes has been the move to a more fundamental R&D focus and less consulting work. This has lead to some significant advances and appropriate scientific publications as well as developments with the New Zealand meat industry.

A Historical Overview by Former MIRINZ Director Doug Wright

In 1955, MIRINZ was established as an independent research association. It was charged with improving the quality of New Zealand export sheep meat, and Norman Law was appointed as the foundation Director. Norman had the philosophy that research into basic meat science, especially muscle structure and function, would provide needed solutions for the meat industry.

Initially, the Institute was funded on the basis of a partnership between Government, the meat processors, and the meat producers – with Government and the industry providing roughly equal contributions. Since 1955, MIRINZ has had to adapt to substantial changes in the way it earns income. Two of these challenges occurred in the late 1980s. They were the appointment of a Meat Research and Development Council [DC] by the Meat Producers Board, and a change in Government’s research funding from grants to a more competitive bidding process. Research became based on contracts dealing with issues that were ‘non-appropriable’ by commercial interests.

MIRINZ became a stand alone commercial research institute and found it necessary to find new sources of finance, including doing research for overseas clients and no longer restricting its interests to sheep and beef alone. This commercial expansion was forced on the Institute, as it could no longer rely on either the New Zealand meat sector or the Government to fully support its work. Despite developing into a viable commercial research organisation, uncertainty about research funding and shortfalls in guaranteed contract income led MIRINZ to merge with AgResearch in 1999. The resulting benefits have been that the MIRINZ ‘brand’ has continued and meat production and processing have become more integrated.

MIRINZ is best known internationally for its research on meat tenderness and the development of industrial techniques such as electrical stimulation to prevent toughness. Mechanical dressing of carcasses has been another major focus with the result that the New Zealand sheep industry is well known for its highly mechanised integrated carcass processing systems with resulting improvements in cost effectiveness, yields of meat and high hygiene standards. MIRINZ has also made large contributions to both the local and international meat industries in a number of other areas, including new packaging systems and systems to monitor and control storage and transport.

The co-operation of meat sector companies has also played a major role in converting scientific information into technology that could be used in processing plants. Their various contributions include working alongside MIRINZ staff, allocating space and manpower to test ideas, identifying problems needing research solutions, and providing funds to support the Institute.

On a personal level, my five years [1987-92] as Director at MIRINZ were the most satisfying and interesting of my more than forty years in science. The staff at MIRINZ are highly skilled and motivated to make the meat industry more productive and profitable. Frustration with some companies’inability to understand the benefits of science and technology and their reluctance to accept that they were high quality food processors did not make MIRINZ’s job easy. Fortunately, today’s meat sector has become consumer orientated and relies heavily on using processing technologies – many of which were developed at MIRINZ.