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Final Report Summary - MEATGRADING (Automatic non-invasive expert system for Europ carcass grading of swine, beef and lamb using cross sectional electrical conductivity)

Carcass classification is an important tool for correct functioning of the meat industry and is used as the basis for the financial transaction between the meat processor and the farmer. The current beef/sheep grading methods have been criticised for being subjective and inconsistent. Recommendations have been made by the industry to move toward mechanical carcass classification systems which would be more acceptable as the basis of quality-based payments. The key objective of this proposal was the development of a cost-effective, automatic, objective classification system to provide an accurate SEUROP classification for pigs and EUROP classification for beef and sheep carcasses, based on non-invasive and non-contact methods. In addition, given current trends in pig, sheep and beef sectors, a need exists for equipment that can accurately predict the meat composition and yield of primal cuts.

The scientific objective of the project will be centred on the adaptation of magnetic induction tomography (MIT) to provide a non-contact measure of carcass conductivity in multiple sections of a pig, beef and sheep carcasses. A further scientific objective lies in developing low cost machine vision methods to provide beef and sheep conformation data, and other carcass dimensions. Correlation equations will be developed to determine carcass fat class using carcass weight, conductivity, and geometric data (lengths, widths, volumes, etc.) from the video image analysis (VIA) system, as inputs.

MEATGRADING project has studied the combination of two different non-contact technologies (i.e. magnetic induction and video image analysis) for the assessment of S/EUROP grading of pig carcasses. Additionally, magnetic induction technology can be used to determine the % saleable meat in beef and sheep carcasses.

The project has followed a top-down design methodology, starting by an analysis of the market needs and deriving best-concept designs and specifications for the development of the system components which make up the system. Each technology has been proposed to accomplish specific objectives:
- Magnetic induction: this technology was selected to determine the conductance of the carcasses. As the conductance of the muscles is 20-30 times greater than fat, it is possible to determine the % lean of a carcass. The conductance measurement by means of MI technology can be applied to all types of biological tissues and therefore can be applied to different animal carcasses (pig, beef and sheeps).
- Video image analysis: this technology was employed to provide complementary information from pig carcasses like the angle of the ham and volume of the ham.

Both system has been designed, developed and characterised at laboratory scale taking into account practical considerations such us the operational environment, maintenance, cleaning and mechanical noise.

Both systems were tested in pig processing pilot plant at the National Food Centre, TEAGASC (Ireland). 45 pigs were slaughtered and analysed with MI and VIA systems using a CT-scanner as a reference method. Results were satisfactory for both systems and next step was the testing at industrial level.

The MI system was installed in a beef processing plant (Dawn Meats, Middleton, Ireland) and more than 300 carcass were analysed. The objective was to determine the potential of the MI system to determine the % lean of beef carcasses. The reference method used was the VBS2000, a VIA system from E+V (Germany) that is capable to estimate the % lean for steers. The correlation between the MI system and the VBS2000 was satisfactory and is expected to extend the experiments using an authorised reference method (Ct-scanner for instance).

On the other hand, MI and VIA system has been tested in several pig abattoirs. System has been tested in Ireland (Dawn Meats), Belgium (Detry) and Spain (Varderobles). More than 4 000 pig carcasses has been scanned and the results compared with the official grading methods (Hennessy Grading Probe and PIC2000). Results obtained indicates that Meatgrading (MI + VIA) could be used as a grading system in a pig abattoir. The following table summarises the advantages and limitation of the current state of the art grading system for pig carcasses as well as the advantages offered by the MEATGRADING system.

For the public dissemination of the results, a website is available (see online).

Also a multimedia guide has been published by the consortium, which explains in details the motivations and needs that resulted in this project, providing contact information about the partners. The consortium is willing to demonstrate the results to companies interested on collaborating in the development of the commercial prototype and/or its exploitation. In this sense, the preferable exploitation path is the commercialisation of the technology to manufacturers of speed drivers, which would benefit of a very low cost electronic embedded system to add diagnosis functionalities to these devices. It is envisaged that this business will require a minimum investment on developments. It is planned to make public the results in the following months, after applying for several patents. Mr. Eduardo Remirez from JMP Ingenieros was chosen the chairman of the SME consortium to manage the technology exploitation.

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