Meat processor Alliance is investing $3.4 million in new processing technology as part of a wider programme to improve health and safety.
Some farmers, and others in the sector, have raised such concerns, but it appears generally the industry itself is not concerned.
Critics claim that ram lambs, especially those used to service ewes and older than 12 months, have a ‘taint’ issue.
But both Silver Fern Farms and Anzco have dismissed the suggestion that ram taint is a problem, insisting that other issues are more important in determining quality and taste in lamb products.
This is backed up by recent research – part of a FarmIQ Primary Growth Partnership programme with Silver Fern Farms, the Ministry for Primary Industries and Landcorp – which showed that lamb gender did not have a consistent or significant impact on taste.
The trial involved 4739 lambs from 16 properties nationwide, which provided 23,000 samples of loin, rump, topside and knuckle. These were subjected to a spread of chilled ageing and fed to 1800 consumers in NZ and 1440 in the US.
“Given the closeness in eating quality preference between rams, cryptorchids, wethers and ewes it would make little sense to exclude any from a premium value lamb offering,” the researchers said. “Through our consumer panel research very few consumers were sensitive to any ram-lamb effect.”
However, another major meat processor, Alliance Group, agrees with the concerns raised over ram taint in NZ lamb. Its market development services manager, Gary MacLennan, says while NZ lamb is number-one in the world with a range of products getting good feedback from chefs worldwide, we must ensure quality is maintained.
“We recognise there is an issue with both ram lamb and crypts over aging tenderness; we need to be doing better, perhaps looking at wethering if they are going to be killed later in the season,” he says.
Massey University animal and meat scientist Nicola Schreurs says many factors can influence lamb meat quality and ram versus castrated versus ewe is just one consideration.
Schreurs claims that no known flavour compounds had been associated with ram taint and it had not been independently and scientifically verified to occur in NZ-produced lambs.
So is it a problem or not?