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Needed Standards for a Changing Industry

ASTM Committee F10 on Livestock, Meat, and Poultry Evaluation Systems

by Ray Bjornson

The meat processing industry in the United States is huge, processing millions of tons of product per year for American consumers. It is also an industry only recently inundated with a wealth of new technology for the evaluation of its product—new technology that must be standardized.

I’m often reminded of a quote from Winston Churchill: “If you don’t take change by the hand, it will take you by the throat.”

Change is what most characterizes today’s meat processing industry. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in the year 2000 meat consumption in the United States was 232.9 pounds [105.6 kg] per capita. Based on current population figures this amounts to the production of something over 1.6 million 18-wheeler loads of product a year. For all of this, the amount of information that can be gleaned through technology has grown geometrically in just a few years.

The formation of Committee F10 on Livestock, Meat, and Poultry Evaluation Systems within ASTM International will potentially provide many advantages to livestock and poultry producers, processors, and the USDA to help them cope with the amount of data generation now common in the industry and demanded by the consumer.

Carcass Evaluation

Just a few years ago, carcass evaluation dealt strictly with weight, and maybe a subjective visual assessment regarding fat and lean. Today the list of variables includes weight, percent fat, percent lean, lean distribution, pH, color, water holding capacity, tenderness, juiciness, taste, intra-muscular fat, marbling, bacteria counts, and more.

Technology adapted from the field of medicine enables the detection of these variables. However, when asked how the information is obtained, often the reply is “the computer does it.” As most of us know, this is an unacceptable answer.

It’s easy to check a scale, it’s easy to re-measure with a ruler; however there is no easy way to explain to the novice how certain of today’s technologies work. This leads to justifiable questions. Producers may ask how they know that they are being properly paid; customers may ask how they know the product really has the attributes packers claim. Questions like these all lead to the need for standards.

Standards

When many of us in the meat processing sector first hear the word “standard” we get the same feeling as when we’re told “It’s time for you to schedule a dentist appointment”—fear!

Historically many of the rules, regulations, and standards that have been put in place in our industry have been developed by outsiders, with often limited input from the people who “really understand and run the business.” That’s why bringing all interested parties together under the ASTM structure is so exciting. It gives everyone a voice, and at the same time we work together as a team to find solutions that we all can live with.

Committee F10 is comprised of people representing livestock and poultry producers, meat packers and processors, equipment manufacturers, USDA, USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration, USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, several state agriculture departments, universities, research centers, etc., all working together with the ASTM process.

This group will work together to develop standards that address the following areas:

• Equipment design specifications;
• Checks to see if the equipment is functioning properly;
• Device performance criteria;

and will answer the following questions:

• Is the device capable of measuring what we want to measure?
• Is the device reliable?
• Will the device provide repeatable results?
• How do we know if the device isn’t functioning properly?
• What type of audit trail should be required?
• What are the user requirements?
• What type of user training programs should be set up?
• Should operators be certified?
• What types of quality assurance programs should be in place?
• How do we audit and document that the process is under control?
• Can the measurements obtained by the device be used to accurately predict what we want to know?
• Is the prediction based on sound statistical procedures?
• Is the sample selection proper?
• Is everything that’s being done based on sound science?

Under the guidance of the ASTM process, this group will accomplish its goal. Due to the group’s efforts, the industry will ultimately provide the consumer with better products by putting standards in place that assure that everyone in the farm-to-market chain is treated equitably. //

Copyright 2002, ASTM

Ray Bjornson is currently director–pork procurement and provisions at Hormel Foods Corporation in Austin, Minn. He is a 32-year Hormel Foods Corporation employee; his current responsibilities include hog production, hog contracts, hog procurement, carcass evaluation, payment programs, genetic research, etc., along with overseeing the purchase of beef, chicken, turkey, and pork raw materials used in further processing and the sale of unneeded pork raw materials.