New EU project aiming to create a ‘meat database’ to help map out and improve taste and quality

22 Aug 2022

A new EU project set up to assess and improve meat quality in the food supply chain plans to create a large database of EU meat. It investigates whether pork and chicken meat from organic livestock farming tastes better than meat from intensive husbandry.

The mEATquality project, funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, began earlier in 2022 and will last four years.

New EU project aiming to create a ‘meat database’ to help map out and improve taste and quality
© AdobeStock/rainer fuhrmann/EyeEm

Led by project coordinator Hans Spoolder from Wageningen University & Research (WUR), the Netherlands, it will look at the taste and quality of meat at multiple farms in Denmark, Germany, Poland, Spain, and Italy – with a particular focus on how different breeds of animal, types of food used, and animal welfare, can impact the quality and taste of meat.

“People who eat organic products say they taste better,” said Spoolder. "But do they? And if so, why?”

EU-wide project

The project aims to develop innovative techniques for automated quality assessment at high line speeds and will also support the fight against food fraud through blockchain technology and the authentication of the final product via ‘fingerprinting techniques.’

While the mEATquality project is coordinated by Spoolder and his colleagues at WUR, it will be carried out by a consortium of 17 partners organisations representing seven EU countries. This consortium consists of seven academic partners, five scientific research centres, two industry partners and three organisations that represent the organic or conventional meat chains, he noted.

Outputs from the project will include the increase of practical information on new husbandry approaches through a ‘sustainability app’ for pig and broiler farmers, but will also be in the development of a template for a European Meat Database to help combat food fraud.

“This kind of European database exists for wine,” said Spoolder, adding that a company is also setting up a large database for beef and lamb.

“The traceability of meat is important in the prevention of meat fraud; think of the horse meat scandal and meat being labelled as organic when it actually comes from factory farming,” he said, noting that identifying meat fraud is ‘a side track’ of the main project.

“We don’t have the budget to develop it further, but we will be able to contribute to an international meat database in due course.”

A database for meat

Throughout the project, meat from the different farms will have its chemical properties investigated in the lab, whilst also being presented to taste panels, he noted, adding that that because large amounts of data will be gathered from multiple countries, a new ‘data warehouse’ will be set up where all the data can be collected and stored.

Spoolder noted that the new project must be able to collect, store and combine multiple sets of data from animal welfare questionnaires, taste panels, lab work, and more.

“We need to set up a water-tight code system that allows you to trace where the meat sample comes from, from start to finish,” he said. “It is essential that everyone measures the same thing and submits data in the same way.”

“We will do a comprehensive chemical and physical analysis of the meat. We want to link this to the origin of the meat,” he said.

“After all, you want to be able to check whether the meat from a German organic pig farm really tastes different and has a separate composition than the meat from a conventional Danish pig farm.”

Wouter Hoenderdaal, developer at Wageningen Food Safety Research, responsible for building out the data warehouse at WUR said while the project itself is in its infancy, the processes that precede data collection are of ‘equal importance.’

“Part of the animal is sent to the lab, another part to the taste panels. So, we need to set up a fool-proof coding system that allows you to trace where the meat sample came from: which animal, farm, region and country.”

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