Meat Judging Competition: International merit awaits
Students get a taste of the serious business of meat judging.
From March 2 to 4 this year, over 50 university students from all over Japan will participate in the third annual Japan Intercollegiate Meat Judging (ICMJ) competition to be held at Tokyo Meat Market in Shinagawa. Competitors will evaluate beef and pork carcasses for quality and yield, and the top five students will receive sponsorship from Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) to represent Japan at the Australian competition in July 2011.
The competition involves evaluation of both yield and quality attributes—factors which ultimately affect not only the price but also the visual and eating experience for the consumer. A carcass with more muscle and less fat will have a higher yield, and one with more marbling, for example, will have higher quality. These attributes of yield and quality vary greatly from one animal to the next, as they are influenced by a wide range of factors, such as age of the animal, nutrition, and environment. It is this variation that forms the basis for the competition and creates a challenge for the students to test their meat judging skills.
With University of Tsukuba Professor Emeritus Yukio Kanai as chairperson, Japan ICMJ was established in 2009 to provide practical experience for university students to learn about meat science and meat evaluation, and to raise student awareness of career opportunities in the meat industry and meat-related fields. The first Japan ICMJ competition was held at the Tokyo Meat Market that same year. With sponsorship from MLA, the top six students were selected to represent Japan at a five-day Australian competition in July 2009. The Japan National Team claimed top honors in the Beef Carcass Eating Quality Evaluation class.
However, that was not the first time a Japan team competed in the event in Australia. Teams from Japan have participated in the Australian ICMJ competition since 2006. The first team was a group of students selected from the University of Tsukuba and coached by Dr. Kate Neath, who was a PhD student at the University of Tsukuba at that time. Dr. Neath herself also took part in an Australian ICMJ as a competitor in 2000.
“The chance to learn about where Australian beef comes from was one of the main drivers for students to participate in the competition” said Dr. Neath, now Marketing Coordinator at MLA Japan. “Nearly half of the beef consumed in Japan is from Australia”.
Popularity of the annual Japan ICMJ competition is expected to increase, and the committee also hopes to establish an international alumni in the future to allow participants to continue to interact and support each other in their respective careers.