• Kyodo

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A university-launched venture in Japan has been striving to spread its artificial intelligence-based meat quality evaluation technology, aiming to make the wagyu beef grading done by human eyes more precise, while using the data to improve cattle breeding.

Hokkaido-based MIJ labo Inc. has developed cameras that use AI to calculate more than 10 factors, such as the density and color of marbling, by taking a picture of the surface of a carcass.

"A fair evaluation of luxury wagyu will be an advantage in marketing them overseas. I hope our products will be widely utilized," said Keigo Kuchida, a professor at Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine who developed the cameras and analysis system.

Since its founding in 2018, MIJ labo's cameras have been used in about 10 meat markets and research institutions in Japan and overseas, including in the United States and Australia.

Currently, wagyu grading is done by Japan Meat Grading Association officials, who examine the surface of a carcass and check criteria such as the proportion that is edible, the density of the marbling and the firmness and texture of the meat.

This means the grading from C1 to the highest A5 is largely dependent on the judgment of the officials.

"Our technology has enabled more accurate evaluation," Kuchida said, adding he is aiming for the analyzed data to be used as a reference when official graders rank wagyu beef.

Kuchida, 56, first developed a camera in 1998 to make marbling classification more objective.

Since then, he has worked on improving the accuracy of analysis and camera miniaturization. The venture now sells three types of cameras with different shapes and prices.

The data collected during evaluations is also shared with cattle breeders via a cloud system provided by the company.

Since the quality of a fertile bull is estimated by the quality of its offspring, the data can help breeders choose appropriate stud bulls to produce better meat with more marbling, Kuchida said.

With other elements than marbling involved in determining the taste of beef, Kuchida said his next target is to develop a camera equipped with a sensor that can quantify flavor.

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