The run of drier seasons during the 2000s across many parts of Australia saw the grass seed problem decline and slip off many producers radars. However the return to better seasons in 2010/11 resulted in an increased incidence of grass seed contamination of lambs. As a result some processors have been calling for a pro-active industry wide approach to a solution. As it was eight years since the original suite of MLA publications addressing the seed problem were compiled and some were out of print, it was timely to revisit this issue and update the resources available to industry.
An Industry Reference Group was formed including processors from several states, a livestock agent representative from the Australian Livestock and Property Agents Association (ALPA) and an MLA representative. This group was used to provide advice and oversight to the review of resources and industry survey. Survey A national survey of sheep and lamb processors was undertaken with the purpose of collecting firsthand information from sheep and lamb processors and supermarkets as to the extent of seed contamination issues impacting on the meat industry.
A full report on the results of this survey is contained in Appendix 1. The survey was able to confirm that grass seed contamination was indeed a major concern for processors. The majority of survey respondents rated it a major problem for their business with some indicating that, at certain times of the year, it was the number one problem facing their business. Estimates of the cost of seeds to the business generally varied between $10 to $20 per carcase but up to $30 for heavily affected carcases. Cost factors taken into account (in order of importance as reported by processors) include: extra labour costs of trimming; slower chain speed; loss of meat value; potential loss of export licence; decreased skin value; potential damage to relationships with suppliers and customers; low staff morale.
The most common penalty system applied by processors is a sliding scale of penalties ranging from 10c/kg CW to $1.00/kg CW, with the penalty applied on a case by case basis. The amount of penalty applied is influenced by the amount of seed present, the location of the seed, the percentage of a line that is affected and whether the vendor is a repeat offender. The most often cited regions that are the sources of the worst problems were (in order) Upper South East SA; Central West NSW; North Central & Mallee/Wimmera region, Victoria and Far Western NSW. The plants that were repeatedly mentioned as problems were Silver grass; Spear grass; Barley grass and Geranium (Erodium spp).