19 July 2002

IGER WILL SHOW GRASS BENEFITS

Taste panel results show

UK consumers prefer

grass-fed beef to that

produced with large

amounts of concentrates

THE positive benefits of using grass to produce beef will be featured on the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Researchs stand.

DEFRA, MLC, the EU and other beef industry interests have provided funding for a range of work that is generating information on enhancing the healthiness, flavour and shelf life of beef.

Nigel Scollan, IGERs head of beef research, says that with less than 5% fat, beef is already a very healthy meat. But feeding cattle on grass increases the proportion of the beneficial omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid linolenic acid in the total fat content.

Taste panel results also indicate that UK consumers prefer grass-fed beef to that produced by feeding large amounts of concentrates. Dr Scollan believes that this is linked directly to the higher linolenic acid content of grass-based diets.

Large-scale work carried out at IGERs beef unit in Aberystwyth, in conjunction with the Universi-ty of Bristol, is looking for feeding strategies that boost the content of beneficial fatty acids. Already it has demonstrated the benefits of using grass and very high quality silage.

"Beef producers are part of the food industry, and if they want them to go on paying more to buy British they have to become more switched on to what consumers want," says Dr Scollan.

Work done so far has not confirmed claims that traditional breeds of beef cattle automatically produce a more flavoursome meat. But there are clear indications that dietary manipulation, such as feeding linseed to finishing Holstein bulls, can improve flavour.

Prolonged wilting

Where silage is part of the ration it is very important that herbage is not exposed to sunlight for too long by prolonged wilting. A quick wilt followed by rapid ensiling ensures maximum preservation of desirable polyunsaturated fatty acids linked to good human health and good meat flavour.

Dr Scollan acknowledges the valid reasons why farmers try to make high dry matter silage, but he recommends a six-hour fast wilt, which also protects the vitamin E component of grass. IGER research has shown that protecting vitamin E in silage fed to beef cattle also improves the shelf life of the meat by delaying colour changes that can tend to make meat look unappetising.

"When beef produced using concentrates is put in modified atmosphere packs the colour saturation changes much more quickly then when beef from forage-fed cattle is packed."

This is due partly to the type of fatty acids in the beef and partly to vitamin E. Feeding high linolenic acid products like linseed, or adding the vitamin to the concentrate can improve the shelf life of intensively-produced beef.