Beef carcase classification

Beef Carcase Classification is required under retained European Union (EUR) Regulations. This is to ensure the uniform classification of beef carcases for the purposes of Cattle Price Reporting. It is also intended to improve transparency in the marketing of beef carcases to the benefit of all sectors of the industry. Agri-food Inspection Branch (AfIB) checks grading standards and licences industry classifiers and VIA (Video Image Analysis) classification equipment.

VIA Classification Data

Detailed below are the data classification data tables for each date of publication.

VIA Classification accuracy data April - June 2024

Meat plant VIA score for conformation grade VIA score for fat class Percentages of carcases dressed to specification
A 868 955 93.1
B 791 936 95.6
C 887 941 93.3
D 869 969 95.4
E 910 938 94.5
F 913 967 95.0
G 851 911 93.6

VIA Classification accuracy data January - March 2024

Meat plant VIA score for conformation grade VIA score for fat class Percentages of carcases dressed to specification
A 886 888 93.2
B 874 851 93.3
C 864 942 94.1
D 817 884 93.1
E 875 881 94.5
F 856 900 95.4
G 872 906 95.4

Explanatory Notes

Meat plants are listed in no particular order and will remain anonymous. The order in which they appear in the list changes randomly at each publication. The data is gathered from statutory inspection reports completed during unannounced checks by DAERA Senior Technical Inspectors in each slaughterhouse.

VIA Score for Conformation Grade indicates how accurately the Visual Imaging Analysis equipment is grading the carcases. Legislative requirements (EUR 1182/2017) dictate a minimum score of 600.

VIA Score for Fat Class indicates how accurately the Visual Imaging Analysis equipment is grading the carcases. Legislative requirements (EUR 1182/2017) dictate a minimum score of 600.
The current dressing specification for carcases in Northern Ireland is known as the UK Specification. Any carcases not dressed to this specification are noted during statutory inspections and will reduce this percentage figure.

If the results from a check on a machine are unsatisfactory DAERA requires the machine to be switched off and carcases to be graded manually. The data from checks carried out when a machine is switched off are not included in the report on this page.

VIA - your questions answered

Automated grading equipment, otherwise known as VIA (Video Imaging Analysis), purchased by beef processors is licensed for use in seven locations in NI - ABP Lurgan, ABP Newry, Dunbia, Foyle Meats, Linden Foods, Omagh Meats and WD Meats. All of these slaughterhouses started using the VIA equipment on Monday 28 March 2011. Manual grading continues in Primestock Meats, DMP Foods Ltd and Lakeview Farm Meats.

Who is responsible for VIA?

The slaughter houses using VIA are each responsible for the accuracy of the carcase classification in their business. They are required to carry out system and grading accuracy checks on the machine each day and to implement a daily maintenance programme. The machine manufacturer was responsible for the installation of the machines and for the ongoing provision of servicing and repairs. DAERA is responsible for the statutory inspection of machine performance and ensuring that classification and carcase presentation are carried out to the required standard.

Was EU certification completed?

The machine initially installed was the VBS 2000 (E+V Technology) which was the type of machine used in the EU Certification Test conducted successfully at Foyle Meats (now Foyle Campsie) during March 2010. Further to the main test, the EU Community Inspection Committee visited two factories in Northern Ireland using VIA technology during May 2011 and their checks showed that the machines were grading accurately. Some small amendments to the settings were implemented in May 2012. These were fully tested prior to implementation and the EU Commission duly notified of the specific changes made and adopted.

Were individual machines licenced in 2011?

After installation in 2010/2011, when the VIA machines in each factory met the required standard on a repeated basis their licence was issued. The EU requires the machines to achieve 600 points for conformation and fat. The average scores achieved in the initial licensing checks were over 800 for both conformation and fat.

What standard does the machine apply?

All machines are designed to apply the EUROP Classification Standard, which is the standard previously used by the Livestock and Meat Commission classification officers.

Are grades different from manual grading?

Producers now find that their cattle are graded by the machine using a 15 point scale. The machine divides each conformation grade (E, U, R, O, P) and fat class (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) into three subclasses which is shows as +, = and -. What would have been graded manually as R3 is shown as R= 3= under the 15 point scale.

How accurate is the machine?

The settings in the VIA machine are those determined from the calibration test carried out in 2010 involving expert graders from across Europe. Human graders do not always entirely agree nor will they ever entirely agree with the grades produced by the machines. However, the machine is designed to be more consistent and reliable than manual graders. During the most recent 12 months (April 2023 to March 2024) the average scores for conformation and fat were 852 and 893 respectively, indicating that the machine achieved a high standard of grading accuracy.

What about “outliers”?

Some producers and processors speak of the machine producing “outliers” i.e. grades that are significantly up or down the scale from the true grade. Under manual grading, an error was considered as being one full grade/class out. Therefore “outliers” are defined as being greater that one full class out. This means that “outliers” are 4 sub classes or more away from the correct grade. The machine does produce some of these but they are very much in the minority – occurring at 0.01% for conformation grading and 0.11% for fat classification. These statistics refer to the percentage of outliers in a sample of 91671 carcases checked by DAERA Senior Technical Inspectors over the period April 2014 until March 2024 and have remained very similar from switch on through to the present. It is not clear why these outliers occur. Producers are advised to check the classification of their stock and should they receive an unexpected outcome draw this to the attention of the slaughterhouse.

Can I have my carcases reassessed and re-graded?

If carcases presented do not grade as expected you are advised to contact the slaughterhouse. Please note, that even if an agreement is made as to the “correct” grade, the grade on the carcase label cannot be changed. There is also no appeals service through LMC or DAERA. Financial compensation may be arrived at with the slaughterhouse but the possibility of this is entirely at their discretion.

Can the machine accurately grade all categories?

The machine is designed, calibrated and regularly checked to ensure that the EUROP Classification Standard is applied across all categories – Animals aged 8 months to less than 12 months, Young Bulls (<2 years), Mature Bulls, Steers, Cows and Heifers. DAERA regularly completes analysis by category and even by grade to determine if levels of accuracy remain acceptable.

How does the machine score compared to manual graders?

Scoring a VIA machine is completely different to scoring a manual grader, for two reasons. Firstly, the VIA machine grades on a 15 point scale (more room for making small errors) not a 5 point as with manual grading, and secondly the VIA errors are weighted according to how far they are from the correct grade. If a mistake is made by a manual grader it is counted as being one error. If a mistake is made by the VIA machine, on the 15 point scale, then it is scored by how big an error it is i.e. it loses more points for larger variance from the correct classification. For example: a manual grader puts a fat class 3 on what is actually a fat class 4H – this equates to one error. If the machine puts an equivalent fat class 3= on what is actually a 4+ then it scores -30 points, instead of +10 points if it had been accurate. Overall therefore a score of 600 points by a machine is more difficult to achieve than 80% accuracy in manual grading check terms.

Can the machine be adjusted?

If someone tampers with the machine this should be picked up during a routine DAERA inspection. It is unlikely however that the machine will continue to work if someone interferes with the settings. The settings on the machine may only be changed with the approval of DAERA. Any change to the settings of the machine that are not approved by DAERA is an offence that can result in prosecution.

Can dressing specification affect the machine?

How the carcase is presented before it passes the VIA machine is important to the accuracy of the machine. The dressing specification must be the same as the one used during the national test of the machine or at the very least one that is not significantly different. Carcases during the 2010 test were dressed to the UK Specification and therefore all factories must continue to use this same dressing specification and make sure they fulfil all aspects of it. DAERA inspectors pay close attention to dressing presentation issues when they are in all factories, those using VIA and those manually grading. Any non-conformance is immediately brought to the attention of factory management and on occasion more punitive action is taken. In addition to the inspection of carcase classification and dressing DAERA Senior Technical Inspectors also check the weighing and labelling of carcases. If any of these are found to be unsatisfactory DAERA takes appropriate enforcement action with processors to have problems corrected.

What happens if a machine breaks down?

Each machine must be checked daily by slaughterhouse personnel and a control report kept for DAERA inspection. The slaughterhouse must have a grader (licensed by DAERA for beef carcase classification) on site at all times to undertake grading if a machine stops working. When a machine fails to classify to the correct standard (either during daily slaughterhouse personnel checks or official DAERA control inspections) it is switched into “Test Mode” and is only switched back on following at least one satisfactory DAERA inspection. During a period where “Test Mode” is implemented, all carcases are graded manually by the slaughterhouse licensed grader.

Are there other reasons why carcases would be graded manually?

On a daily basis VIA machines will not classify some carcases for a number of reasons. In a few cases the carcase may be presented the wrong way around where the camera ‘sees’ the inside rather than the outside of the carcase. If the carcase overhangs the edge of the handling board the machine recognises that part of the carcase is not included for assessment and a grade will not be generated. The machine has a number of additional checks built into its operating system such as assessing if the size of the carcase is consistent with the weight of the carcase which has been photographed. There is also provision for contaminated carcases which veterinary staff do not wish to come in contact with the VIA equipment to bypass the machine without being classified.

How will I know if my carcases have been graded automatically or manually?

Processors are statutorily obliged to notify producers whether carcases were classified by automatic or manual means. This is often shown on remittance advice notices as "A" for VIA (automatic) classification and M for manual or human classification with a key provided to explain what “A” and “M” signify.

Ongoing checks

DAERA carried out weekly unannounced checks on all machines from 28th March 2011 (when the machines went live) until January 2012. At this point the frequency was reduced to at least three per month. Since April 2012 it became two per month and more recently this has been reduced again. This reflects the consistent level of accuracy that has been maintained by the machines. During a check the DAERA Inspector grades between 40 and 80 carcases (usually 80) using the 15 point scale and then compares their grades against the grades applied by the VIA machine. Each carcase is also assessed for compliance with rules on carcase dressing and trim. The inspections are risk based, so if any problems are identified inspection frequency can be increased. Where no problems are discovered inspection frequency will be reduced over time. The results of inspection checks are made available to producers, on a quarterly basis, on this page of the DAERA website.

Can a machine be modified?

The answer is yes, as this is allowed for in the regulations, and modifications can be for a number of reasons. Reasons such as gradual changes in a region’s slaughtering statistics, limitations of computer software, machine parts no longer available, improvements in technology e.g. LED lights and digital camera etc.

What is involved in a modification approval?

A modification approval process is less stringent than a full trial however meets all the requirements of the now retained EU legislation. It involves the gathering of calibration data from a wide spread of carcases which are classified by UK Government experts. This data is then used to create new formula/algorithms by the manufacturing company which are then used in the updated VIA machine. After this, a mathematical and physical validation process is carried out on the new algorithms and updated machine. This process involves the newly produced VIA grades being checked by UK expert Government graders. Only when the data is validated, authorised and meets the standards laid down in legislation is a machine approved. Once a machine is approved and installed in a plant and checked by the competent authority for accuracy, a licence is then issued for each individual machine.

Have there been any modifications made since the VBS 2000 (E+V) was approved in 2010/2011?

Yes, during 2011, more carcase data was gathered and some small amendments were made to three of the machine’s formulae. These changes were implemented across the UK in May 2012.

Recently Agri-food Inspection Branch (AfIB) DAERA had been involved in a new national bovine Video Imaging Analysis (VIA) machine modification approval which has authorised the use of the new VBS 2000 (Marel) machine in slaughter plants across the UK.

How was this recent modification trial carried out?

This updated machine (VBS 2000 (Marel)) with LED lights, new digital camera and software updates was temporarily installed alongside the current machine in 3 different slaughtering sites across the UK including one site in Northern Ireland. In 2022 AfIB, along with counterparts in the UK, completed the calibration stage by gathering carcase classification data from Government Expert graders over several weeks at each site. The calibrated algorithms created from this data were installed into the updated machine in each slaughter plant in February 2023 and the physical validation of this data was carried out by UK Government inspectors, again at each site. Following further in-depth analysis of the data by regional Competent Authorities, the VBS 2000 (Marel) machine was UK approved in October 2023.

Has the modified machine now been installed and licensed in Northern Ireland?

Yes, as of the June 2024, the upgraded machine has been installed and licensed in all Northern Ireland slaughter plants previously licensed for the use of VIA classification. The process started in late March 2024 and as each machine was installed, DAERA Senior Technical Inspectors carried out checks for accuracy. Once consistent standards were met, each machine was licensed for use. DAERA continue to carry out statutory inspections of the VIA machine’s performance and ensure that classification and carcase presentation are carried out to the required standard.

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