Carcass classification is an essential part of efficient animal production, price fixing and meeting consumer demands. Carcass classification (or grading) is based on the description of carcasses by means of clearly defined characteristics that are of prime importance to the meat industry, retailers and consumers. Significant variation exists in carcass composition and quality due to the effects of species, age, maturity type, sex and interaction effects with animal production systems. A number of extrinsic and intrinsic factors affects carcass and meat quality and the purpose of carcass classification in South Africa is to classify carcasses to ensure more consistent meat quality, composition and consumer satisfaction. Although carcass inspection is compulsory in South Africa, carcass classification is not a requisite at all South African abattoirs. South Africa employed a carcass grading system from 1944 to 1992, which was replaced by a carcass classification system in 1992. Carcass classification differs fundamentally from carcass grading. In carcass classification there is a shift of emphasis to classifying carcasses in order to provide the meat industry and consumers with a choice of different types of carcasses in terms of carcass composition and physical attributes, while there is no indication of perceived quality as is provided in a grading system. In a carcass grading system, an indication is provided of standard, prime and superior carcass grades which relate to standard, prime and superior meat quality. The conceptual basis of the carcass classification system is therefore based on the principle that producers, retailers and consumers differ in terms of their perceptions and expectations of carcass and meat quality, and subsequent eating experience. More recently it has become apparent that the current classification system is being used as a grading system due to the use of preferred classes, which defeats the original purpose of a classification system. Furthermore, recent research suggests that the variation within carcass classification categories has increased considerably due to differences between livestock breeds and types, animal production systems and the use of modern feedstuffs and growth enhancing technologies. The purpose of this paper is to review the characteristics and goals of the current South African carcass classification system, grading systems in other countries and the implications for effective marketing, price fixing and consumer satisfaction based on the complex cycle from ‘farm to fork’.
"Experientia docet" - Experience is the best teacher