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DEXA to work like a video referee or GPS

Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) General Manager Research Development and Innovation Sean Starling
The LandReported by: Colin Bettles
Sale Date: 02-May-2017

IT may be an over-simplification to some analysts - but the future use of Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) in the red meat sector can be likened to the evolution of video and digital technologies used to help solve disputes, in the modern sporting era.

DEXA applies a dedicated and sophisticated x-ray device to scan carcases to provide an objective yield measurement of lean meat yield, by identifying the bone, fat and meat contents.

Rather than dedicated human beings with specialist skills and experience providing a visual analysis and an educated estimation of the carcase grade and its money-making content, a machine can instead step into the analytical space to deliver a more enhanced scientific evaluation, devoid of emotion.

Like the use of a third umpire to analyse video evidence and data provided by other digital devices to judge controversial decisions like run outs in cricket or leg before wicket decisions, or goals in the AFL or line-ball decisions in tennis, the technology won’t be perfect and it won’t entirely replace humans.

But it will aim to remove perceived conflicts of interest from the decision-maker’s domain, and improve the accuracy of verdicts big or small that can potentially make or break careers or bank accounts.

Teys Australia corporate services general manager Tom Maguire said the DEXA system was being introduced in response to ongoing concerns about the traditional meat grading system and trust issues with producers.

“Nothing’s changed for 30 years - we’ve had the same system in place - but what’s changed is the premium,” he said.

“We see DEXA as really important to building better trust and it’s a bit like the video referee that’s now being used in footy.

“You’ve got an image that people can go and see and debate it rather than a producer selling a whole heap of cattle and then all of a sudden trusting our employees to give them the correct result, so that’s why we started that push.

“It’s all about building more trust and confidence between producers and processors but the technology is only a small part of that.

“We’re going to have a big TV screen at (the Teys Rockhampton processing plant) located in a room where producers can see their cattle being graded and see the image (of the DEXA x-ray) and we can talk about it and by doing that, we build more trust.”

Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) General Manager Research Development and Innovation Sean Starling said the DEXA system was “really exciting” because of its ability to increase the accuracy of feedback information, throughout the entire supply chain.

Mr Starling said the feedback information would only be on lean meat yield, on meat, fat and bone but MLA was also working on creating more objective measurements for other carcase attributes.

He said the reason MLA viewed the DEXA technology as being “so exciting” for the red meat sector and to help build trust between processors and producers was based on a car analogy - rather than a video referee like those used for judging marginal decisions in cricket, rugby, AFL or other sports.

“For years we’ve been driving around in an EH Holden and looking at the speedometer thinking we’ve been doing 60 miles per hour, but that speedometer has been fluctuating between 20 miles and 80 miles per hour,” he said.

“Sure, we know roughly we’ve been doing 60 miles per hour but we’re not sure if it has really been 20 miles or 80 miles.

“But what this DEXA system does is really provide a GPS type speedometer so we know now when we set that cruise control at 100 kilometres an hour, we’re doing 100kms per hour, plus or minus 2kms.

“And this DEXA system is going to do exactly that with respect to meat, fat and bone measurements.

“For the past 20 or 30 years we’ve been giving people information on meat, fat and bone, or lean meat yield with an accuracy of about 20pc.

“This DEXA unit has an accuracy and repeatability that’s four-fold what we’ve been doing for the past 20 or 30 years.

“And we just know, through experience, the more accurate information we provide back to anyone that can make some use of it, the better the supply chain will be.”

How does it work?

Mr Starling said if someone went to hospital and held their arm or leg still an x-ray image was taken, using a single energy x-ray, which then allowed doctors to analyse whether the bone was broken or fractured.

He said the single energy level x-ray measured one attribute like bone, in medical applications.

But dual energy provides two levels of measurement in the x-ray, firstly for bone energy and bone definition and then the meat and fat content, he said.

“The purpose of dual energy is to pick up two of the three attributes and by difference, we know what the third attribute is as well,” he said.

Mr Starling said DEXA definitely wasn’t new – having been used in the medical sector since 1987 which was, “another exciting part about it”.

“We’re not on the cusp of innovation here but we’re on the cusp of applying this old and evolving technology to our industry,” he said.

“What’s so great about taking a technology that’s been used in other industries, and applying it to our industry, is that we can tweak it and implement it really, really fast.

“Others have spent 20 years doing the raw research in this space and it has been predominantly the medical industry and the aviation security industry is using this technology as well.”

Mr Starling said the Australian red meat sector was aiming to become the first in the world to adopt DEXA technology and become “leaders in this space”.

“The industry globally has been arguably slow to adopt this know-how, because involves a lot of infrastructure and a lot of new science and that just takes time,” he said.

“It also takes time for the whole industry to understand how it will use this type of information and we’re on that journey as we speak.

“There’s at least another six months to five years before the entire industry fully appreciates how to use and gain leverage from this technology, but we’re on the journey.

“I believe with regards to acceptance by this industry, large and influential companies like Teys, which are great supporters of this technology, know what they’re going to do with it and appear to have a program where they’re going to roll this out, company-wide, at a rate that works for them.

“But we believe that will show and de-risk it for others, to be fast, second or third followers.”

Mr Starling said MLA had undertaken research on DEXA using collective industry funds and “definitely our view of the world, having done that work” is to see the industry, as a collective, support it’s roll out into all meat processing facilities that want to opt-into the program, so nobody’s at a disadvantage.

“And it also means producers, no matter who they send their cattle or sheep to, know they’re going to get the carcase scanned and get feedback through a single common device,” he said.

“We use the concept and have stolen the thinking from Intel, of the early computer days, of Intel Inside, so what we want to see is DEXA inside, everywhere.

“One of the things we’re really concentrating on is making sure now is the right time to move and we don’t lock or back ourselves into a corner.

“The beef and lamb DEXA systems that we’re installing into processing plants, if we ever need to upgrade them, it must be a cost-effective upgrade like putting a new set of wheels on your car.

“Secondly, if new technology comes into the supply chain and needs to be installed in different parts of the supply chain, those DEXA systems can still be used for boning room automation and chiller sorting.

“So even if CT scanning becomes a reality for our industry in five or 10 years’ time, they’ll be installed at different locations - which could be on-farm or at processing plants - but it will not require the removal of DEXA units, which can still be used for chiller grading and sorting and boner room automation.”

Mr Starling said despite using the best systems in the world, if people inherently, through their nature, didn’t want to trust someone or something like a new technology, they never would.

But he said to improve trust in the beef supply chain, MLA hoped enhanced scientific measurements of carcase yields through DEXA would “actually provide independence, away from humans providing feedback, in having machines that we inherently rely on”.

“When we step on a set of scales, we might not like to see the result, but when it says 80 kilograms, we actually believe it to be 80 kilograms,” he said.

“By introducing those sorts of technologies and people being able to go online to see their data in real time and having an organisation like AUS-MEAT being an independent grader and verifier of the units, hopefully that allows those on the verge of trusting, to be able to trust.

“We know when that you go to a supermarket and put your fruit on a set of scales and pay for it, you don’t question those scales anymore but you may have 30 years ago.

“However once again that’s the role AUS-MEAT will play to verify that when the system says x, y or z, it truly is x, y or z.”

 

The story DEXA to work like a video referee or GPS first appeared on Farm Online.

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