MIJ camera critical in Wagyu genetic progress

Widespread adoption of the Meat Image Japan objective carcase grading camera is helping underpin rapid genetic progress in Wagyu cattle in Australia.

While there are a number of vision-based grading camera systems now in use in the Australian beef industry, the Japanese-developed MIJ technology excels in its ability to accurately measure high-marbling Wagyu carcases for both abundance and marbling fineness. As a separate article today reports, marbling fineness is taking on increasing significance in the Wagyu industry.

A contingent of 40 Wagyu industry stakeholders from Australia, the US and Brazil taking part in the 2022 AWA Wagyu tour of Japan this week were given a comprehensive update on the MIJ camera and new developments in the field.

Twenty-four of the MIJ cameras are now in use by Wagyu supply chains in various beef processing plants across Australia. Most are the latest version of the technology, called MIJ Mobile, launched at the Australian Wagyu conference in April. The latest MIJ camera is more portable and more powerful, being only around 1kg in weight compared with the original model’s 10kg. Higher resolution cameras are used, and the technology has shown the ability to make up to 500 carcase assessments in a little over two hours under Australian conditions.

While the original MIJ cameras cost A$60,000 to purchase in 2018, technology advances have seen a dramatic decline, with the latest version only around A$4000, putting them well within reach of smaller Wagyu supply chains. Each owner buys a unit outright, paying a small royalty fee per carcase image captured and submitted. Across the entire Australian Wagyu industry, more than 50,000 carcase images and data have now been captured. Much of the data is fed into the Australian Wagyu Association’s genetic analysis, while some is used for internal genetic evaluation.

Australian Wagyu beef continues to be traded globally based on AusMeat marbling scores rather than MIJ camera results, but the camera data for marbling abundance and fineness, and eye muscle area, are primarily used at present to underpin carcase progeny-driven genetic selection. The MIJ platform also has the ability to do a full carcase yield analysis based on EMA, fat cover and carcase weight, but at this time that is only calibrated for quartering at the 6/7 rib site as applied in Japan, not the Australian quartering site between ribs 12-13.

In Japan, all Wagyu carcases are officially assessed by manual graders from the Japan Meat Grading Association, many of which take 10-15 years to reach their full certification level. But increasingly, graders are using the MIJ camera in their work, before making a call on whether a carcase is eligible for the A5 premium category, or something less.

The MIJ cameras are also used in the Zenkyo National Carcase Competition held in Japan every five years (report coming on this event next week), as well as the AWA’s annual Wagyu Branded Beef Competition staged in Brisbane.

Pivotal to genetic progress

Some higher performing Australian Wagyu carcases produce marbling performance well beyond AusMeat score 9 (the Australian language’s current limit), with a number of entries in this year’s AWA Wagyu Branded Beef Competition exhibiting marbling abundance that would equate to a score 15 or 16, based on the digital marbling score produced by the MIJ camera.

“Obviously the industry is aware that these very high marbling values exist, and grading these a MB9 might not accurately describe the marbling  at those very high levels under AusMeat grading,” AWA chief executive Matt McDonagh said.

“But certainly, the brand owners get the value out of that product by using brand segmentation, pushing them into ‘ultra-premium’ categories,” he said.

“So the value capture from the carcase is already there, but the trading language’s ability to describe those carcases accurately and consistently would be beneficial,” Dr McDonagh said.

“There’s no doubt that the MIJ camera has been pivotal to the rapid genetic progress being made in Australian Wagyu. Since we started using the MIJ cameras starting 2018, we now have 26,000 Fullblood carcases within the AWA genetic evaluation system, and growing rapidly as more cameras are deployed.”

The strength of the camera-driven data shone through in the heritability of the trait involved (the amount of the measured variance that can be attributed to genetics). Since the adoption of MIJ, the heritability for marbling traits in Australian Wagyu has risen from about 0.3 (representing 30pc genetic influence) up to 0.6 (60pc of genetic influence).

“This means Australian breeders can make an enormous amount of genetic gain in marbling, very, very quickly,” Dr McDonagh said. “Marbling results in Fullblood Wagyu have gone from 7.3 average marbling score to almost 8 just in the last 5 years.”

“With the MIJ camera, we’re also able to get much more range in the data – because we are picking up those very top animals that wouldn’t otherwise be identified. Averaging a marbling score of 8 means 30-40pc of those carcases are going to marbling grade 9 or 9+, all the way up to 15 or 16 on the MIJ digital marble score scale, which is calibrated against AUSMeat.”

“We are able to accurately pick up those outliers with the MIJ camera, and that data is very valuable when it is used in our BreedPlan analysis to identify outstanding animals and our new super sires.  The rate of genetic gain in Wagyu now is outstanding.  This will underpin consistency in supply of new ultra-luxury Wagyu.”

Update on progress

Providing an update to the Japan Wagyu tour group on the Meat Image Japan camera technology during a visit to Obihiro Veterinary University in Hokkaido this week was the project’s founder, Professor Keigo Kuchida (pictured above). Prof Kuchida has been working on various forms of image-based meat analysis and grading for 30 years. He stressed how important marbling performance was for Wagyu carcase value in the Japanese market. A Beef Marbling Score 12 Wagyu carcase might be worth 1.5 million yen in the domestic market (around A$18,500 Australian) while a BMS 3 carcase of the same weight might be worth 800,000 yen, or less than half.

While official carcase assessment for grading purposes continues to be carried out by manual graders under the Japan Meat Grading Association, the objective MIJ camera was used in Japan primarily for genetic selection work, Prof Kuchida said. The latest version of the camera seen this week is smart-phone based – a super-high resolution, super-fast version of the earlier MIJ camera – offering extremely high accuracy and portability. It is already in wide use in Japan. One of the international challenges in the use of the technology is the different method used to quarter carcases for grading inspection of the rib-eye cross-section. Unlike Australia and the US which quarter at the 12-13 rib position, Japan uses the 6/7 rib position, and provides only a narrow inspection site. Carcase cut-site preparation in Japan is tightly controlled, using a specific piece of equipment so that every carcase is prepared identically. This allows use of a specialised ‘narrow-cut’ version of the MIJ camera in Japan and consistent grading between all processing sites.

Future work

MIJ’s developers in Japan are now working on a real-time grading function for the camera, rather than uploading image files for later use. This could have important advantages in carcases sortation before boning, with Wagyu branded programs needing to sort carcases from large slaughter groups prior to the boning chain. While MIJ cameras in use in Australia are currently widely used on Wagyu F1-Fullblood cattle, their use  in other breeds is expanding, especially higher-marbling long-fed and mid-fed Angus brands.


First published in BeefCentral  5 October 2022

Important Notice and Disclaimer

It is very important that you appreciate when viewing the AWA database that the information contained on the AWA database, including but not limited to pedigree, DNA information, Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) and Index values, is based on data supplied by members and/or third parties.

Whilst every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of the information reported through AWA, AWA officers and employees assume no responsibility for its content, use or interpretation. AWA disclaims all liability (including without limitation, liability in negligence) for all expenses, losses, damages and costs you may incur as a result of the use by you of the data on this AWA database and the information supplied by ABRI and AGBU being inaccurate or incomplete in any way for any reason.

Regarding EBVs and Index values, it is very important to appreciate, and you need to be aware that:

  • EBVs are derived using Wagyu Single Step BREEDPLAN technology developed independently by the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit (AGBU), using the information contained within the AWA database.
  • AGBU is a joint venture of NSW Department of Primary Industries and the University of New England, which receives funding for this purpose from Meat and Livestock Australia Limited.
  • AWA relies solely on advice provided by AGBU and ABRI in accepting Wagyu Single Step BREEDPLAN software.
  • EBVs published in Wagyu Single Step BREEDPLAN are estimates of genetic potential of individual animals and may not reflect the raw animal phenotype.
  • EBVs can only be directly compared to other EBVs calculated in the same monthly Wagyu Group BREEDPLAN analysis.

Regarding pedigree and DNA testing results submitted to the AWA, it is very important to appreciate, and you need to be aware that:

  • Pedigree and DNA data submitted and supplied to AWA may have errors in it which cannot be detected without further DNA testing.
  • Technology may have advanced since a particular test was undertaken so that previous inaccuracies which were not detectable are now able to be detected by current testing technology.
  • AWA estimates that less than 1% of the pedigree entries, ownership or breeding details in the AWA Herdbook may have errors or which may be misleading. For this reason, users ought to consider if they need to obtain independent testing of the relevant animal (if possible) to ensure that the data is accurate.

Regarding prefectural content, it is very important to appreciate, and you need to be aware that:

  • Prefectural content is based on the estimation of prefectural origin from Japanese breeding records of 201 foundation sires and 168 foundation dams.  As genotype-based parent verification is not used in Japan, and full Japanese registration certificates are not available for all foundation animals, exact prefectural composition for these sires and dams cannot be validated.
  • The calculation of prefectural content for Australian Herdbook animals relies on the accuracy of pedigree records and DNA samples provided by AWA members.
  • The reporting of prefectural content for animals within the AWA Herdbook relies on the calculation provided by ABRI.

If you consider that you do not understand or appreciate the nature and extent of the data provided on this website or the EBVs of a particular animal, then AWA strongly recommends that you seek independent expert advice.