Consumers expect ‘healthy’ lamb.
The future prosperity of the Australian lamb industry depends on maximising eating-quality, according to Meat & Livestock Australia's Alex Ball.
As program manager for eating quality research and development, Dr Ball said Australian consumers enjoyed eating lamb but in future would increasingly want and expect more including improved health attributes and jucier, more tender, flavoursome lamb.
"At the moment we talk about lean meat yield, muscle and fat, but the future consumer wants to talk to us about iron and zinc and omega 3 fatty acids, and the future consumer wants to talk to us about taste, juiciness and tenderness," he said. "They also want to talk to us about what is in those fatty acid profiles, and the amino acid content of our protein. If we can predict that, we can be well-placed for what we do in those areas."
He said the first step to raising the benchmark in eating quality was to focus on intra-muscular fat, which accounted for 80 per cent of the variation in response in juiciness and taste of lamb.
Unlike beef, this marbling was not easily physically measured in lamb until it reached 8-10pc of the loin area, but through genomics it was now possible to gain an accurate genetic prediction of the IMF of individual animals from a blood test.
"There is a 25-point range in IMF for ram breeders to work with to gain benefit. The range of IMF moves lamb loin from a three-star to five-star product," he said.
Lamb producers had a responsibility in the next couple of years to ensure they were buying rams from stud breeders with eating-quality genetic information. They should select animals with positive IMF and negative shear force.
It was also important to balance eating-quality and not lose the gains which had been made in lean meat yield.
The next generation of Meat Standards Australia for lamb being developed would move lamb from its current pass-fail mob-based system to an individual carcase cuts-based grading system similar to the beef industry.
Meat Eating Quality Traits
At Spring Valley we have already tested over 100 sheep for the hard to measure traits which affect eating quality. We have many sires that have positive IMF (intra muscular fat) and negative shear force (tender).
These sires pass on these traits to their progeny (heritable trait).