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Stackyard News May 08

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Gene Marker Selection Improves Beef Tenderness

Potential for even the best to be better as UK’s top abattoir sees a 10% improvement in tenderness.


beef cattle

New technology exists that allows beef producers to improve the eating quality of beef, even under the very best abattoir management conditions.

Gene marker technology – which allows UK beef producers to select cattle that will produce more tender beef – has the potential to offer UK consumers a more consistent and excellent eating experience, according to a recent trial, funded by Genesis Faraday and undertaken by the National Beef Association, in association with Bristol University, Merial Animal Health, Borders Quality Beef and Dovecote Park, the sole supplier of beef to Waitrose supermarket.

The study looked at the potential role for gene markers to produce more consistently tender beef.

Hair samples were taken from 450 suckler bred cattle involved in the trial and genetic marker profiles – using Merial’s IGENITY multiple-marker analyses for traits including tenderness, marbling and retail meat yield – were produced.

The finished animals were monitored through Dovecote Park's meat plant and samples of steak were collected by Bristol University for shear force testing, once they had been cooked.

Shear force readings are a standard international method for assessing how much force is required to slice a sample of cooked beef, the greater the force the tougher the meat.

The range of shear force values measured were only half those seen in American studies suggesting that the techniques applied in the abattoir already produced more tender meat than in the US. UK cattle involved in the trial had a range in tenderness of between 2.1 and 6.8 kg, only half of that in similar American trials which ranged from 1.8 to a massive 13.1 kg!.

Yet the technology offers room for improvement, even for the very best abattoirs. The project found that by selecting cattle using gene markers for tenderness, overall tenderness improved by a further 10%.

The message to beef producers that are producing high yielding well muscled cattle is they can use the tender score to improve tenderness accuracy and help ensure greater consistency of the end product.

Uptake of the technology among beef producers will very much depend on beef prices, said Kim Haywood, NBA Director “as yet, there does not appear to be any financial incentive for producers to use gene marker technology for tenderness, but the NBA is actively having discussions with processors/retailers as well as farmers on how gene marker technology can be used to improve the profitability for all sectors in the supply chain – including the consumer, who expects a consistent and enjoyable eating experience every time they purchase beef”.

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