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Wed 5 Nov 2008 04:00 AM

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Meaty cuts

Quality is key when it comes to meat, so suppliers are under pressure to deliver only the finest cuts.

Quality is key when it comes to meat, so suppliers are under pressure to deliver only the finest cuts.

The UAE accounted for 7.77% of the world's lamb and beef imports in 2007 and 15.38% of all poultry imports, second only to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Figures released by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) - the international marketing arm of Australian meat and livestock exporters - also indicate a 76% increase in red meat sales to the region in the second quarter of 2008.

We firmly believe that the health of the land and the health of the cattle are key to producing healthy beef.

"Consumers around the world, including the Middle East, are demanding safe, hygienic meat that provides consistency in eating quality. Not only must it be safe, but it must also be enjoyable to eat," says David Pethick, a professor in biochemistry and nutrition at the Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia.

Pethick visited the UAE last month to give a lecture on the factors affecting the eating quality of Australian lamb and beef at the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management in Dubai.

"All members of the meat supply chain can influence palatability. Broadly speaking, they can be divided into ‘on farm' and ‘post farm gate' factors," he explains.

"The Australian government and the meat industry oversee an integrated programme that underpins Australia's excellent record in animal health, product hygiene and quality.

"The programme includes a strict quarantine to protect against disruptive animal diseases.

"There are also food safety systems from the farm forward such as national livestock traceability, and the assurance of federally-regulated inspection."

Pethick says that through scientific research and consumer studies, the Australian meat industry has developed eating quality systems that provide the consistency now being demanded by consumers worldwide.

"The significance in the value of the Middle East market is reflected by the importance both the Australian Government and the Australian meat industry places on ensuring the requirements for Halal are respected and stringently followed," he asserts.

MLA regional manager for the Middle East and Africa, Ian Ross, adds: "The increase in sales of various Australian red meat products in the UAE market reflects strong consumer confidence in Australia's animal health and welfare protocols, as well as in the integrity of the Australian Halal system.

"The various Middle Eastern countries are among the world's largest consumers of Australian meat products and they continue to become major trading posts for the Australian red meat industry."

Fresh meat

Having recently opened an office in Dubai, Prairie Halal Foods (PHF), a partnership of seven companies from the Canadian province of Alberta, is hoping to provide some competition for the Australian meat suppliers and snare a share of this lucrative regional market.

"If you look at the way Australia and New Zealand have built a brand for their meat products and a reputation for quality, it all comes down to successful marketing," says the company's general manager, Wahid Kandil.

"In Canada we have the same or even higher quality products but they've been under-marketed internationally for a long time.

"Now we feel it's time to share them with other markets."

PHF distributes Halal-certified beef, bison and elk meat and targets top-end restaurants in the GCC and the rest of the Middle East.

The company is a joint venture between shareholders Prairie Heritage Beef Producers, a group of natural Angus beef ranchers; Canadian Rangeland Beef and Bison, a beef and bison production and marketing company; Aliya's Foods Ltd, a Halal certified value-added meat processor; and Alberta-based Halal meat marketing and distribution company The Meat Grinder.Other founding partners include value-added meat processor New Food Classics; poultry processor Lilydale; and Halal-certified slaughter plant Canadian Premium Meats.

"Our group has developed an internal Halal protocol manual and, in addition, all of our partner companies are certified by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)," says Kandil.

"The idea is to provide an entire basket of authentic Canadian products that all have similar standards in terms of production and quality.

"This will make it simpler for chefs to consolidate their orders," he explains.

There are also several other features that set the meat products available from PHF apart from the competition, according to Prairie Heritage Beef Producers co-founders, Christoph and Erika Weder.

"Our ranchers raise their beef without the use of antibiotics, artificial growth hormones or animal by-products," says Dr Christoph Weder.

"Also, with our Heritage Angus brand of beef, we can guarantee traceability from the pasture to the plate.

"Every animal has a unique identification tag and we can track it from when it's slaughtered all the way back along the supply chain," he adds.

"We're even testing a DNA trace-back system right now too - if, for instance, there's a steak in Dubai, this system would allow us to take a swab of that steak and go into our computer database and trace it back to see which cow it came from on which ranch."

Prairie Heritage's approach is very different from the typical, "commodity beef" method of production, claims Weder.

"Our programme isn't meant to feed the masses.

"We're trying to get into markets where there's a high disposable income, because you pay a premium for this type of quality product. That's why I think the Middle East is an ideal market for us," he explains.

"People [in this region] are able to appreciate excellent quality and there is high demand for exclusive products."

All the ranchers that participate in the Prairie Heritage programme are extremely "eco-committed" Weder adds.

"We're highly committed to protecting our land and water resources," Weder explains.

"This is something that's very important to us personally and also in terms of promoting the product - we've found that for some people it's really important that the food they eat also sustains biodiversity."

Most industrialised models of beef production are dependent on feeding large quantities of grain to cattle in order to promote rapid growth, but this method has a negative impact on the animals themselves and on the environment, according to Weder.

"Cattle evolved to eat grass, not grain. When you grow cattle quickly the meat doesn't have the same eating quality."

"Also, with the high grain prices at the moment, that system is no longer very cheap or viable."

Instead, grazing on natural grasslands accounts for more than 70% of Prairie Heritage cattle's growth and the animals are finished by feeding a balanced diet of silage and barley, allowing the ranchers to supply beef year-round while still maintaining the uniformity of the product.

"Even though we don't produce our meat as fast, it's actually more efficient long term," says Weder.

Prairie Heritage co-founder Erika Weder agrees with this. "We firmly believe that the health of the land and the health of the cattle are key to producing healthy beef," she says.

"All of the chefs that have tried our meat so far have noticed a huge difference in the flavour," she adds.

"It has a beefier taste and, because we're not using steroid implants there's not a lot of connective tissue in the muscle, so the meat is more tender," she explains.

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