CUTTING-EDGE technology used for pharmaceutical and toxicology identification of illicit substances and explosives is showing good potential as an objective tool for authenticating claims of beef production systems.
A technology known as Raman spectroscopy, or RS, has been shown to deliver a 95 per cent-plus accuracy in splitting long-term grainfed cattle from other production systems.
The belief is supplementary research could lead to RS being adopted as a method for verifying beef from a range of diverse production systems.
With marketing experts pointing to even stronger consumer demand for guarantees around food safety, origin and production methods in a post-pandemic world, the work is being heralded as trailblazing by those targeting valuable international beef markets.
Charles Sturt University PhD student and NSW Department of Primary Industries researcher Bridgette Logan gave an overview of the research at the recent online Graham Centre Livestock Forum.
Verification of beef production systems was based on audits and conditional on producers meeting processor-set specifications which vary for individual grain and grassfed brands, she said.
Maintaining accountability within the beef supply chain is a major cost in the form of auditing and an even greater potential cost if there is a failure in the audit process.
"Therefore there is a need for an objective method to verify the production systems which can be used to guarantee premium beef products from Australia," Ms Logan said.
Raman spectroscopy provides a chemical fingerprint of a sample. It is a measurement of the vibration of molecules once high intensity light is directed at the sample, and provides a spectra that contains information about the chemical bonds making up that sample.
It's rapid, non-destructive and available as a portable handheld device - so it is perfect for beef samples, Ms Logan said.
Researchers sampled 520 carcases from four differing production systems, including cattle fed a grain-based diet in a feedlot for at least 100 days, shorter 70 days grainfed, grassfed grazed on southern pastures from weaning to processing and cattle grazed on southern pastures supplemented with pulse pellets.
Spectral analysis was conducted on samples taken 24 hours post slaughter.
Modelling demonstrated Raman spectroscopy's ability to split the feeding groups, however separation between grassfed and grassfed supplemented was not clear.
Once a satisfactory model and library could be established for Australian beef cattle, the potential was for the technology - developed into a tool used on carcases - to be used in combination with current grading techniques, Ms Logan said.
The research has been funded by the NSW Department of Primary Industries and Meat & Livestock Australia's Donor Company, MDC.
The Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation is an alliance between NSW DPI and Charles Sturt University.
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