Laura Ryan, EBLEX Marketing Manager (Quality Schemes)
Laura Ryan of EBLEX stresses the importance of robust quality assurance schemes to the long-term health of the red meat industry

Our industry is under constant pressure and subject to intense scrutiny from many different sources and over a range of issues. Whether it’s to do with animal welfare, the effect of livestock rearing on the environment, the integrity of quality control systems throughout the supply chain or the effects on our health of eating red meat, we can be sure the queue of lobbyists and single-issue pressure groups will continue to hold the industry to account.

While we have to deliver across all those issues, the litmus test for our industry is whether we satisfy consumers on the quality and consistency of their eating experience – that we continue to meet their expectations on taste and eating quality and that we do so consistently.

Of the various quality assurance schemes in our industry, the EBLEX Quality Standard Mark (QSM) for beef and lamb is distinguished by the fact that it addresses the key issue of eating quality.

When the QSM was developed 10 years ago, the aim was not simply to provide combined guarantees of food safety, animal welfare and care for the environment within one of the highest levels of independently inspected quality assurance systems for meat in the United Kingdom. Its unique aspect was to address key consumer concerns about the eating quality of red meat, such as succulence and tenderness, and the industry’s ability to ensure these were met consistently. 

The QSM scheme has contributed enormously to raising the bar of quality for beef and lamb over the past decade and has been central to much of the work undertaken by EBLEX in this regard. As in all things, however, nothing stands still. 

The standards behind the QSM scheme were upgraded a couple of years ago, specifically to address issues of animal age, maturation periods and carcase classification. Such improvements to the scheme are ongoing and a necessary function of ensuring the QSM continues to deliver as consumers become more discerning: our work has to keep pace with their more demanding levels of expectation.

This is especially the case when consumers are increasingly being urged – for all sorts of reasons – to eat less meat. Our challenge will be to ensure they eat better and I believe that initiatives such as the QSM can play a vital role in that regard. 

In looking at how the scheme can be further developed to provide consumers with the reassurance they want (and the industry the capability to deliver) it may be that some form of additional carcase grading system can be incorporated. This has proved beneficial in other markets where a carcase grading system has been introduced and would have a significant impact too for the beef and lamb sector in England. 

While one important aspect of our work at EBLEX is to improve carcase yield, we’re conscious that this must not be to the detriment of eating quality. Ideally, the two go hand in hand. Therefore, if carcase grading were to be allied to a premium tier QSM specification, the opportunities for further differentiation are obvious.

There are, of course, challenges for the whole of the supply chain in this quest. Equally, there are benefits to be realised from an integrated and holistic approach to raising standards and buy-in from a committed processing sector is fundamental to the ongoing development and success of the QSM scheme. Given the general clamour currently around dedicated supply chains, it would be feasible to trial the benefits of establishing a graded carcase specifications system linked to a premium tier product. The benefits to producers, processors, retailers and foodservice operators would then not only be tangible, but measurable. And if the proof of the pudding is in the eating, consumer satisfaction levels would determine the ultimate success. 

This article first appearedin the June issue of Meat Management.

Quality Standard Beef

Quality Standard Beef

Read the standards relating to beef >>
Quality Standard Lamb

Quality Standard Lamb

Read the standards relating to lamb >>
Quality Standard Veal

Quality Standard Veal

Read the standards relating to veal >>