New Zealanders each eat around 45 kilograms of beef and sheep meat every year, but most meat produced from sheep and cattle is exported.
The meat of an animal, often termed the carcass, makes up around 85% of the animal’s economic value (excluding the wool on a sheep). Also valuable are co-products such as skins for leather, edible organs such as the liver and kidneys, meat offcuts used for pet food, meat meal for use in poultry and pig feeds, and excess fat (tallow), a useful energy source. Pharmaceuticals are also made from animals.
Primal cuts and offal
The main cuts of meat that we eat, such as roasts, chops and steak, come from an animal’s carcass, and are called primal and sub-primal cuts. Meat from the organs and other internal parts is called offal. It includes edible organs such as the liver, heart, kidneys and tongue, as well as sweetbreads, from the thymus and pancreas glands. Tripe is from the stomach lining. The testicles of young lambs – often called mountain oysters – are considered a delicacy by some.
Welfare and safety
Regulations about transporting and handling animals protect their welfare, and systems used at abattoirs and freezing works are audited to ensure their humane slaughter. The markets for animal products increasingly demand more traceability of the product from the ‘field to the fork’, and quality assurance programmes involving the farmer, the processor and the supermarket are becoming common.
All meat products are subject to systems that ensure they are fit for human consumption. This starts with a signed, legal declaration by the farmer about the origin and health status of the animals, and the types of feed they have eaten. The animals are inspected before slaughter, and later the carcasses and internal organs are examined for diseases, defects or contamination. Random sampling of meat for drug residues is also undertaken. These checks and sampling are done by independent inspectors.