THAT’S BULL: Former butcher reveals why your steak is tough
UNPREDICTABLE meat quality is keeping former butcher Alisdair Robertson from returning to the industry he grew up in.
The former butcher, abattoir worker and restaurateur turned tourism operator, grew up on cattle properties in Alice Springs and Central Queensland.
He wants to return to the industry but won't until he can ensure he is supplying quality meat.
The Emerald man said the current guidelines, enforced by AUS-MEAT, caused unpredictability in beef quality because bull meat can be classified as steer.
"Consistency is one of the biggest causes for frustration and reasons why other protein options are chosen," Mr Robertson said.
"Tough beef is not a pleasant eating experience, and even less so when the expensive piece of beef has been purchased for a special occasion."
Mr Robertson believes the industry needs stricter guidelines to prevent bull meat from being classified as steer.
Current guidelines allow immature male cattle to be packed as steer under Export Meat Orders 1985 legalisation, unless they show Secondary Sexual Characteristics.
Mr Robertson said the characteristics were subjective and it didn't take other factors into account.
"Meat from a two-year-old working bull that … worked his muscles to the bone can be sold with identical labelling to a two-year-old fat steer that has never worked a day in its life," Mr Robertson said.
"At what point does a scrotum become well-developed and when do neck muscles become advanced?"
AUS-MEAT Chief Executive Ian King said classifying steer meat as bull would be problematic.
"It is illegal to do what Mr Robertson suggests," Mr King said.
"Immature animals are not bulls in terms of description and there is no evidence of market failure."
Mr King said legalisation would not change unless research and science conducted by the Meat Standards Australia grading model indicated eating quality worsened.
"The industry works tirelessly to improve and develop the language through science, technology and research to drive change."
He said the research being conducted by MSA could prompt further investigation on eating quality and the relevant legalisation but it was a complex issue.
"It was simplistic to believe the reduction in domestic beef consumption is the result of bull meat entering the market," he said.
"There are many other factors including cultural shifts, health concerns and alternative processes."
Mr Robertson raised the issue with the Australian Competition and Consumer Competition in November last year and is yet to receive a response.
ACCC refused to comment on the investigation and referred questions to AUS-MEAT.
He also took his concerns to an Australian Meat Industry Language and Standards Committee in February.
He referenced an Australian Beef Language White Paper, which recommended the industry investigate changing the method of using SSC to define gender.
A Department of Agriculture spokesman said the Australian Meat Industry Language and Standards Committee was awaiting the results of an industry-led research project.
The committee is set to decide whether the definition of bull should include entire male other than those described within veal or castrated males exhibiting SSC.
A decision is set to be announced early next year.