Protein Biochemistry Associate Professor Jim Morton and other Lincoln University researchers are working with experts at AgResearch, Silver Fern Farms and the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences to develop a better appreciation of lamb processing challenges in New Zealand and China.

Dr Morton says that New Zealand provides some of the highest quality lamb for the world market but some of the meat has defects, making it difficult to sell. “Lamb is an expensive commodity and it is important that any losses of quality during processing are minimised,” he says. “During the first day after slaughter, important changes happen that turn muscle to meat. One of the most critical changes as far as quality is concerned is pH decline. If the decrease in pH is too rapid or the final pH is too high, the meat will have a short shelf life and poor eating quality. “In both New Zealand and China, a significant proportion of meat stock reaches the processing plant in a condition that makes the meat vulnerable to these defects.”

The project aims to find biomarkers for pH defects and use them to create models of the changes that occur in lamb during processing. This will allow for the development of new technologies to provide better control of meat quality. “The collaboration will continue beyond the length of this project so that we can develop technologies to help the industry overcome other meat quality problems,” says Dr Morton. “This will improve profitability of one of NZ’s largest export industries and increase understanding of our largest market.”

The researchers made a successful China:NZ bid in the MBIE April Catalyst round, with their proposal ranked first during assessment for the Food Safety and Security category. They will receive significant funding for the project over three years.