There is a growing trend for people to know the source of the food they are eating. Much of this has been brought on by the spread of food scandals and a growing concern for health and the environment.
Although each country and range of beef has its own farming styles, we'll focus on one of the most natural ways of farming: grass-fed beef.
Grass-fed beef farming is adopted by a number of countries that export their beef to Hong Kong, most notably New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom. During the cattle's life on the farm, they eat all the grass the farmer can provide. This a very natural way of farming, as nothing is added to the animals' diet. In addition, most farming practised in a grass-fed operation will not add any artificial feed to the cattle's diet, so the animals grow and mature naturally.
Specialist breeders raise top-notch bulls and cows. It is down to the farmers’ in-depth knowledge and experience to work out which are the best for breeding. Most of today’s breeders use Angus cattle, as it is known to be one of the best-quality cattle to produce quality meat. Cross-breeding with other types of cattle is also very common.
Calves are usually tagged at an early stage. The tag is applied to the ear of the animal: the passport for each individual animal. From here on, all the movements of the animal are recorded, right to the point of slaughter. Information, from the animal’s health to farm locations, is noted to allow it to be traced back to its parents and the breeder farm. This has been a key technological development to help traceability.
Calves move on to farms where they graze on natural grasslands. Farmers are likely to have acres and acres of grass-filled paddocks for the cattle to roam freely. This is where the weather can play a vital part in farming. For grass to grow, there needs to be a good amount of rain and sun. In recent years, both Australia and New Zealand have been hit with seasons of drought, resulting in very little grass. Farmers then struggle to bring cattle to their full potential and weight before they are processed in a slaughterhouse.
Typically, cattle will be on a farm between 28–34 months before going to a slaughterhouse. Transportation from the farm to the slaughter factories is as stress free as possible. Usually travel time is around 4–5 hours at most.
Slaughter and Processing
On arrival at the slaughter factory, the cattle are held for 6–12 hours to relax after the journey from the farm. Animal stress is closely monitored from a humane point of view, but this does also affect the overall quality of meat.
Modern slaughter facilities are all HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control points) accredited and conform to the relevant government regulations and health and safety laws. Animals are processed under strict conditions. Skin and offal will be taken from the animals and moved into the relevant processing rooms. Typically, cattle become carcasses ready to be processed in about 20 minutes from the moment of slaughter. Each carcass is then tagged with a label that includes information from the ear tag.
Typically, carcasses are held in a cold room for about 24–36 hours. This varies depending on the type of factory operation and the sort of product being produced.
Each carcass is then broken down into different muscle categories and sent to the packing line, where it is usually vacuum packed and placed in a carton, ready for shipping out.
At this stage, the process of ageing occurs, which usually takes between 21–30 days. The ageing process is key to producing tender meat.
For Hong Kong, the meat is shipped at the local airport where the local health inspectors and a certified vet inspect it and provide the shipment with a health certificate. The meat is then placed into insulated air-cargo containers and put on the next flight to Hong Kong. For frozen meat, the meat is loaded into temperature-controlled sea containers and sent on cargo ships.
Upon arrival in Hong Kong, the meat goes through an inspection by FEHD (Food and Environmental Hygiene Department) at local ports and is then taken to the importer's temperature-controlled facilities.
From the importer, the meat gets delivered to the restaurant or supermarket of choice, where we, the everyday consumer, purchase our favourite piece of steak and and then cook it to perfection.
Photos by Beef + Lamb New Zealand