Naughten tells Dáil grading machines getting it wrong on over 4 out of 10 cattle

In Agriculture, News by Denis Naughten

Denis Naughten TD has called for the replacement of outdated beef grading machines after he told Dáil Éireann that “on 38 occasions the grading machines were getting the grades wrong for more than four out of every ten animals that were being graded”.

He pointed out that the legal tolerance limit set for beef grading machines currently in use in meat plants was a mere 60% accuracy, yet these machines could easily be more than 90% accurate.

“The mechanical grading machines in use in beef plants across the country today were first trialled and tested 20 years ago by Teagasc. At that time, 20 years ago, google was just invented and people needed an encyclopaedia if we wanted to look something up,” said Denis Naughten.

“Technology has changed a lot in 20 years and we now need new hi-tech beef grading machines and we also need new modern rules to operate them so that they can accurately reflect the actual grade of the animal. These new rules then need to be properly enforced by Departmental officials to ensure that farmers will also not be exploited.”

Denis Naughten went on to state that this incorrect grading is having a significant impact on the payment received by farmers because if a grading machine was out by at least two subcategories this could see farmers getting €140/head less than they should for their cattle.

ENDS.

Dáil Éireann debate –
Wednesday, 27 Mar 2019

Beef Sector: Motion

Denis Naughten TD:
Last night the Minister informed me that since 2014, 38 beef grading machines had been found in unannounced inspections by Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine officials to be outside the legal tolerance limit of a mere 60% accuracy. To put it in plain English, on 38 occasions the grading machines were getting the grades wrong for more than four out of every ten animals that were being graded. The mechanical grading machines in use in beef plants across the country today were first trialled and tested over 20 years ago. The fact is that technology has come a long way since. At the time the machines were first tested, if we wanted to look something up, we had to look at an encyclopaedia. We do not need one today. The incorrect grading is having a significant impact on the payments received by farmers. The Minister must justify why Northern Ireland rules for the exact same grading machines require them to be checked every day but for grading machines in the Republic of Ireland reports are only produced on a weekly basis. Why is it that grading machines have only to be 60% accurate when they could easily be more than 90% accurate? There is a need for new grading machines and we need new rules to operate them that will be enforced by departmental officials to ensure they will not be exploited and that farmers will also not be exploited.

 

Dáil replies referenced in debate:

 

For Oral Answer on : 26/03/2019
Question Number(s): 72 Question Reference(s): 13975/19
Department: Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Asked by: Denis Naughten T.D.
______________________________________________

QUESTION

To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine further to Topical Issue No. 2 of 6 March 2019, the steps he is taking to ensure the integrity of beef carcass grading in meat plants; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

REPLY

Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2017/1184 of 20 April 2017 governs the monitoring of carcase classification, carcase presentation and weighing.  It specifies how on-the-spot checks shall be carried out in all slaughterhouses applying compulsory carcase classification. According to this legislation, on-the-spot checks shall be performed in all slaughterhouses which slaughter 150 or more bovine animals per week at least twice every three months. The legislation stipulates that each on-the-spot check shall relate to at least 40 carcasses selected at random.

 

Carcase classification controls in slaughter plants are carried out by a dedicated team of specialist staff in the Beef Carcase Classification Section within my Department.   Classification Officers conduct unannounced, on-the-spot inspections in 32 beef slaughtering plants to ensure that Carcase Classification is carried out in accordance with EU Regulations.

 

The number of inspections conducted annually significantly exceeds the legal requirement set down in EU legislation.  In 2018, my Department conducted almost 550 inspections.  This is an average of 17 inspections per factory per year, which significantly exceeds the legal requirement of 8 inspections per year.  At each inspection, an average of 85 carcasses were inspected for correct classification and carcase presentation. The legal requirement is 40 carcasses per inspection.  I am satisfied therefore that the existing system significantly exceeds the requirements of the relevant EU Regulations.

 

Regarding new technologies, my Department is supervising an industry-led trial which is examining the latest technology in terms of cameras and lights for use in the mechanical classification system. The trial is examining the effectiveness of using digital cameras and LED lights as part of the carcase classification system. This trial is in an advanced stage.  Subject to confirmation of its effectiveness,  I would expect the industry to implement this technology in due course although this is a matter for commercial consideration.  I have also asked my officials to explore the incorporation of factory machine records available on a daily basis, into the controls system.

 

 

 

______________________________________________
For Written Answer on : 26/03/2019
Question Number(s): 951,953,958,960,961 Question Reference(s): 12749/19, 12772/19, 12777/19, 12767/19, 12768/19
Department: Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Asked by: Denis Naughten T.D.
______________________________________________

QUESTION

* To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine if mechanical grading machines tolerance for fat class is at least 88% of the predictions should be within 1 sub-class of the reference panel score; if more modern grading machines can provide a more accurate assessment of fat class; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Denis Naughten T.D.

For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 26 March, 2019.

* To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine his plans to increase the frequency of inspections of mechanical grading machines in view of the identification of the failure by his Department on 21 occasions in the past two years; if he will require the compilation of daily reports on the operation of the equipment and reports of the machines miscalculating grades as is required by his UK counterpart; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Denis Naughten T.D.

For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 26 March, 2019.

* To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine if UK compliance standards as outlined during Topical Issue No. 2 of 6 March 2019 are applied to mechanical grading machines operated in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Denis Naughten T.D.

For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 26 March, 2019.

* To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine further to Parliamentary Question Nos. 535 to 537 of 12 February 2019, the figures for 2015, 2016 and to date in 2019, respectively for the number of machines found to be operating outside the approved tolerance; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Denis Naughten T.D.

For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 26 March, 2019.

* To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine further to Topical Issue No. 2 of 6 March 2019, the number of inspections in the 23 plants with mechanical grading and in the nine plants without mechanical grading, respectively; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Denis Naughten T.D.

For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 26 March, 2019.

REPLY

Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2017/1182 lays down the guidelines for authorisation of an automated grading method for beef. It specifies the conditions and minimum requirements for authorisation. It states that to estimate the performance of the automated grading method, the results of the automated grading method shall, for each validated carcass, be compared to the median of the results of the jury. The resulting accuracy of the grading by automated grading methods is established by using a system of points.

With a view to authorisation, the automated grading methods should achieve at least 60 % of the maximum number of points for both conformation and fat cover. There is no mention of 88% accuracy in the legislation.

Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2017/1184 of 20 April 2017 governs the monitoring of carcase classification, carcase presentation and weighing.  In 2016, my Department conducted approximately 600 unannounced, on-the-spot inspections in 32 factories on classification.  In 2015, there were approximately 550 inspections conducted. In 2018, my Department conducted almost 550 unannounced, on-the-spot inspections. The controls applied in Ireland are significantly in excess of those required under EU Law.

To look at mechanical versus manual, in 2018 there were 412 inspections conducted in the 23 Mechanical plants and 136 conducted in the 9 manual plants. This is an average of 17 inspections per factory per year across all inspections, which significantly exceeds the legal minimum requirement of 8 inspections per year.

There were 11 instances in 2016 and 5 instances in 2015 when factories were instructed to revert to manual classification when a machine was found to be working outside of tolerance by my inspectors. To date in 2019, 1 machine has been placed in test mode.  Machines operating outside of tolerance are required to be serviced, and the calibration is checked by staff from my Department before mechanical grading recommences.

The EU legislation specifies how on-the-spot checks shall be carried out in all slaughterhouses applying compulsory carcase classification. According to this legislation, on-the-spot checks shall be performed in all slaughterhouses which slaughter 150 or more bovine animals per week at least twice every three months. The legislation stipulates that each on-the-spot check shall relate to at least 40 carcasses selected at random.

In the UK and in Northern Ireland, it is individual factories, not the competent authority, who conduct performance checks on the mechanical classification machines on a daily basis.

Regarding new technologies, my Department is supervising an industry-led trial which is examining the latest technology in terms of cameras and lights for use in the mechanical classification system. The trial is examining the effectiveness of using digital cameras and LED lights as part of the carcase classification system. This trial is at an advanced stage and I intend to publish a report of the trial from an independent expert supervising the trial in due course.

Subject to confirmation of effectiveness, the Department would expect the industry move to implement this technology in due course though this is a commercial decision.  The Department is satisfied that the existing system is compliant with the relevant EU Regulations.

______________________________________________
For Written Answer on : 26/03/2019
Question Number(s): 952,954,955,956 Question Reference(s): 12771/19, 12773/19, 12774/19, 12775/19
Department: Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Asked by: Denis Naughten T.D.
______________________________________________

QUESTION

* To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine the conclusions drawn from the testing of new beef grading technology in meat plans supervised by his officials in February 2018; if the grading technology will be upgraded as a result of the testing of this new technology; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Denis Naughten T.D.

For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 26 March, 2019.

* To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine further to Parliamentary Question Nos. 535 to 537 of 12 February 2019, the subclass tolerance and other tolerance thresholds for mechanical grading machines; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Denis Naughten T.D.

For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 26 March, 2019.

* To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine further to Topical Issue No. 2 of 6 March 2019 and Parliamentary Question No.171 of 27 February 2019, if he will he review the policy of not manually regrading carcasses which have already gone through the mechanical grading machines in advance of identifying a breach of the tolerances in view of the fact that farmers could be losing €140 per head due to mechanical grading errors; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Denis Naughten T.D.

For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 26 March, 2019.

* To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine his plans to review the complexity of the beef carcass classification scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Denis Naughten T.D.

For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 26 March, 2019.

REPLY

The rules governing Beef Carcase Classification are set down in EU legislation – (REGULATION (EU) No 1308/2013 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL).  It requires slaughterhouses to take measures to ensure that all carcasses of bovine animals aged eight months or more are classified and identified in accordance with the Union scale.

Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2017/1182 lays down the guidelines for authorisation of an automated grading method for beef.  It specifies the conditions and minimum requirements for authorisation.  For each validated carcass, the median of the results of the members of the jury shall be considered as the correct grade of that carcass. To estimate the performance of the automated grading method, the results of the automated grading method shall, for each validated carcass, be compared to the median of the results of the jury.  The resulting accuracy of the grading by automated grading methods is established by using a system of points.

According to the legislation, the automated grading methods should achieve at least 60% accuracy for both conformation and fat cover.   However,  results in Ireland for classification were at much higher levels, for example, in 2018 with 91.8% accuracy for conformation and 84.8% for fat.

The legislation states that carcasses shall be classified by assessment of Conformation and Fat cover and that Member States are authorised to subdivide each of the classes into a maximum of three subclasses.

Regarding the testing of new technologies, my Department is supervising an industry-led trial which is examining the latest technology in terms of cameras and lights for use in the mechanical classification system. This trial  is at an advanced stage and I intend to publish a report of the trial from an independent expert supervising the trial in due course.  Subject to confirmation of effectiveness, my Department would expect the industry to move to implement this technology in due course though this is a commercial decision.  My Department is satisfied that the existing system is compliant with the relevant EU Regulations.

Controls carried out by my staff are set in legislation. Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2017/1184 of 20 April 2017 governs the monitoring of carcase classification, carcase presentation and weighing.  It specifies how on-the-spot checks shall be carried out in all slaughterhouses applying compulsory carcase classification.

According to this legislation, on-the-spot checks shall be performed in all slaughterhouses which slaughter 150 or more bovine animals per week at least twice every three months. The legislation stipulates that each on-the-spot check shall relate to at least 40 carcasses selected at random.

Authorised classification officers conduct a classification exercise on a minimum of 100 carcasses at each inspection to determine that the performance of a classification machine is within tolerance. The unannounced checks verify the on-going accuracy of the automated beef grading methods by using a system of points and limits defined in EU legislation.

Under the current system of monitoring the performance of the machine, officials check the overall performance of the carcass grading machine. The checks carried out by officials are system checks with officials looking for systematic errors rather than at individual cases.

______________________________________________
For Written Answer on : 26/03/2019
Question Number(s): 962,957,959 Question Reference(s): 12769/19, 12776/19, 12778/19
Department: Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Asked by: Denis Naughten T.D.
______________________________________________

QUESTION

* To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine further to Parliamentary Question No. 239 of 6 March 2019, the reason his Department is now refusing access to the data in view of comments (details supplied) to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture and Food on the introduction of mechanical grading; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Denis Naughten T.D.

For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 26 March, 2019.

* To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine if he will issue a tender for software to facilitate each farmer receiving the digitised image of each animal further to comments by Minister Doyle during Topical Issue No. 2 of 6 March 2019 and in view of the fact that his Department has direct access to the digitised image of each carcass which goes through a mechanical grading machine; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Denis Naughten T.D.

For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 26 March, 2019.

* To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine the length of time his Department holds the digitised image of each carcass which goes through a mechanical grading machine; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Denis Naughten T.D.

For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 26 March, 2019.

REPLY

The mechanical grading machines are the property of each individual meat plant and the images generated by these machines are therefore retained on the factory’s own computer system.  My  Department does not own or hold these images and therefore is not in a position to grant or refuse access to them.