A German-made digital imaging system for beef grading has picked up Canadian Food Inspection Agency approval for use in the country’s larger federally-inspected packing plants and could help ranchers adjust their production accordingly.
The new camera systems, made by e+v Technology of Oranienburg, just north of Berlin, are an “exciting advancement in improving grading accuracy and gathering data,” according to the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association in a newsletter last week.
“The CCA has long been an advocate of computer vision grading because of the potential for the machine to make numerous measurements in the very short period of time currently available to grade each carcass,” Mark Klassen, the CCA’s director of technical services, said in the newsletter.
The new system, it said, allows for “improved grading accuracy under current grading regulations.”
While the technology has already been approved and put to use in over 20 U.S. plants, only three in Canada — the Cargill facilities at Guelph, Ont. and High River, Alta. and the XL Beef plant at Brooks, Alta. — have a moving rail to accommodate it. All three have already installed the imaging system.
Before cameras can be put to their newly approved use, however, packing plants must request to use the equipment for grading, the CFIA must approve installation and the Canadian Beef Grading Agency (CBGA) must establish protocol.
Graders in beef plants usually have about 15 seconds to evaluate a carcass on a moving rail and may use visual estimates or a yield ruler to capture those measurements, the CCA said.
But the e+v instrument, designed for use with a moving rail, photographs and analyzes the rib eye area between the 12th and 13th ribs of each carcass as it passes by.
The camera measures grade fat, rib eye width, rib eye depth, calculation of a lean yield percentage, lean yield grade and a marbling score. If it’s difficult for the camera to get an accurate reading, a grader can overrule the camera’s grading.
The system assesses marbling under the same light and at the same distance from the rib eye, based on minute calculations of red and white pixels within the traced muscle. This will reduce the level of variability that comes with human assessment, CBGA general manager Cindy Delaloye said in the CCA’s newsletter.
Information the e+v system gathers can also be stored, shared and further analyzed, which Klassen said will allow packers to realize the system’s full grading potential by making the data available throughout the supply chain.
The CCA-backed web-based database, the Beef InfoXchange System (BIXS), allows that individual carcass data to be shared back down the chain with all previous owners of the animal, if those owners are enrolled in BIXS.
Therefore, according to the CCA, cow-calf producers in BIXS can use carcass information to help make genetic improvements and bolster marketing efforts, while feedlots can use the data to fine-tune their operations and packing plants can better sort their product in order to meet customer demands.
Klassen said he’s confident that over time, this will help boost both the quality and yield of Canadian beef.
Most Canadian cattle could be graded using the new system, he said, once the required approvals can be completed at the three plants that now have the equipment.
For smaller plants without a moving rail, the e+v technology is “less feasible,” the CCA said, although it’s looking at ways to incorporate the technology into a portable camera.
That said, the approval for the e+v units marks the first major advancement in the Canadian system since the Computer Vision System (CVS) camera was introduced in 1999, the CCA said.
The company on its web site offers two units for beef grading in the slaughter line: the VBS 2000, for automatic grading and classification, and the VBG 2000, for automatic “value determination” of a carcass.
e+v’s other offerings include automatic grading and classification equipment for pork, sheep and lamb carcasses; sensor systems for horizontal or vertical primal cutting of hog carcass halves; a grading and defect inspection system for poultry; and a visual carcass identification system for traceability.