AgResearch has been awarded $4.25m in funding to develop sensors which will accurately measure the quality of export beef, lamb and venison in order to enhance consumer confidence in New Zealand’s meat.

The funding comes from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Enterprise’s Endeavour Round, announced last week.

AgResearch senior scientist Dr Cameron Craigie says the five year research project will create a new measurement system to identify the functional, compositional and structural properties of meat products at the processing point.

“New Zealand has a unique place in the export market because we largely raise our stock on pasture. This point of difference gives our export meat an eating quality advantage that consumers are willing to pay extra for,” he says.

“We want to make it easier for the consumer to recognise and appreciate the premium position of New Zealand meat products, and that depends on being able to measure the quality and prove those measurements are meaningful.”

Dr Craigie says the research project will develop sensor technologies to measure the meat and establish its functional, structural and compositional properties – information directly linked to its eating quality and value.

Marketers of New Zealand meat products can provide the consumer with quality information at the supermarket through packaging on premium meat products.

The sensor platform will also enable detailed meat quality information to be collected routinely for New Zealand producers to use, so the industry can begin to understand the impacts of farm management decisions on meat product quality and value.

“We want to get to a point where the consumer in a supermarket in the United Kingdom or China can pick up a leg of New Zealand lamb and see from the packaging that it has an excellent textural profile, a good level of intramuscular fat to ensure succulence and flavour, and generally an assurance that the product will consistently taste good.

“This level of information will enhance the reputation we already have for producing high quality export meat products, and we want that to translate into significant additional export revenue for New Zealand farmers.”

Dr Craigie says his team at AgResearch will be working closely with the New Zealand Meat Industry and partnering with the Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies (with researchers from the Universities of Auckland and Otago), Callaghan Innovation, Scott Technology Ltd and KU Leuven in Belgium to research and develop the sensor technology.

“The financial benefits will be captured in New Zealand. The farmer should be able to expect a premium price for producing better quality meat, and processors should be able to attract a premium price in market based on proven objective product quality measurements.

“The reputational benefits will be appreciated right across New Zealand. This research will enable us to stay ahead in the export market as well as boost our reputation for producing excellent quality meat products.”

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