Chief executive Andrew McKenzie’s column
The meat industry remains one of the only areas in commercial food production where governments internationally intervene to the extent they do. To check that the way we do things can stand up to this rigorous international scrutiny NZFSA, along with industry, has embarked on a meat hygiene reform strategy to ask some fundamental questions about our meat hygiene systems. We are examining whether our current approach can be justified with sound food safety reasons and whether it is cost effective.
As we look at meat hygiene in its entirety, we will be challenging the existing paradigms. Once you start searching for answers to questions about why things are done in a particular way, it becomes clear that many of the processes in the meat industry were historically put in place for logical reasons. However, technological advances and up-to-date, peer-reviewed science may have made these reasons obsolete.
Ultimately industry and government want to get safe products into the market at minimal cost. The reality is that the current meat hygiene programme and requirements cost industry many millions of dollars annually and naturally any justified reduction in the level of government involvement or introduction of more cost efficient hygiene measures would save meat processors money. The meat hygiene reform strategy aims at examining in a methodical way all aspects of meat processing where there are requirements imposed in the name of meat hygiene to see where things can be done smarter.
Essentially we are asking the key players in the meat industry how they would get the lamb in the paddock into the frying pan in the smartest and safest way if they were to start from scratch today. We have developed return on investment models to see what the savings in dollars would be from potential changes that are put forward along the way.
Because of the scale of our meat industry, adopting innovative approaches can result in big savings. In fact the commercial benefits are so large that industry often leads on developing cutting-edge techniques. In recent years, for example, processors have taken to spray-chilling lamb as an effective way of cooling carcasses while controlling the shrink loss normally experienced during traditional cooling methods. This new procedure is estimated to result in about 2% less shrinking.
Our work will be heavily influenced by the Codex Code of Practice for Meat Hygiene, which was developed by the Codex Committee on Meat Hygiene. This code draws on modern thinking in risk analysis and regulatory practices, and covers hygiene provisions for raw meat, meat preparations and manufactured meat from the time of live animal production up to the point of retail sale. It is much less prescriptive and more outcome focussed than traditional approaches to meat hygiene.
One of the important goals for the meat hygiene reform strategy is to maintain and enhance market access by achieving mutual acceptance of the New Zealand programme with our trading partners. Our meat producers currently have a number of hoops they must jump through to get their products into various markets. If international trading partners accept that New Zealand standards are equivalent this could provide producers with a more cost effective compliance programme for the vast array of importing countries’ own specific requirements.
Published in Food Technology, November 2009