Enhancing beef quality - Probeef
The quality of food is becoming increasingly important to consumers. For meat, the definition of quality is becoming increasingly complex as it encompasses not merely the physical aspects of the meat such as tenderness, juiciness, flavour but also incorporates more important issues such as safety, traceability, healthiness and production environment. Consumers are progressively more aware of the relationships between diet and health, and hence for food this is becoming a more important dimension of product quality.
Beef is considered to be a highly nutritious and valued food. The importance of meat as a source of high biological value protein and micronutrients (including for example vitamins A, B6, B12, D, E, iron, zinc, selenium) is well recognised. However, fat and composition of that fat is an important area of discussion. The fat typically consists of approximately up 45, 50 and 5% as saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, respectively. The polyunsaturated component includes the beneficial omega (n-3) PUFA (eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, 20:5n-3) and docasahexaenoic acid (DHA; 22:6n-3)) and is an important vehicle for the delivery of beneficial fats through to man.
ProBeef has confirmed the higher levels on omega-3 fatty acids in meat from cattle fed on grass-based diets. This is because grass, even though it is low in fat, contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. The project also demonstrated that there is much variation in fat and fat composition in genetic populations, held at IBERS-Aberystwyth. This is good news as it allows our grass breeders to select for grass material that is higher in fat and containing a higher proportion of omega-3 fat. Higher levels of fat in our grasses would be helpful as fat is high in energy and this lack of energy is one of the key factors limiting growth of cattle on forage-based diets. This work is being taken forward in a new project examining fat in grasses, in which HCC are a partner.
Probeef also highlighted the need to further understand how grass fats are digested and metabolised in the rumen by the microbial population to help formulate new ways of further improving composition of fat in beef, and indeed other ruminant products, including milk.