14 April 2000

Vitamin supplement hope

By Marianne Curtis

SUPPLEMENTING beef cattle with vitamin E during the late finishing phase could delay beef discolouration, extending shelf life by up to four days. But it is currently unclear how the practice could be implemented commercially and whether there would be an economic incentive for producers to feed the vitamin.

MLC and MAFF-funded research carried out at Bristol University confirms that vitamin E increases the stability of meat colour, explains the universitys meat scientist Jeff Wood.

"Following slaughter, unsaturated fatty acids present in beef are unstable. Breakdown of these fatty acids enhances beef flavour in the early stages, however, later on they cause meat discoloration and rancidity."

An antioxidant such as vitamin E works by delaying breakdown of unsaturated fatty acids, extending shelf life. However, it must be fed for sufficiently long to enable it to be incorporated in the animals muscle tissue, explains Prof Wood.

"Vitamin E must be supplied at a level of 1000mg/day for the last 100 days before slaughter. This allows it to reach high enough levels in muscle structure to have an effect."

The greatest benefit is seen in concentrate-fed animals as their diet is low in vitamin E compared with cattle on a grass-based diet, he says. "Leafy grass contains high levels of vitamin E so shelf life of beef from grass-fed cattle tends to be naturally extended.

"In our work, supplementing cattle on a high concentrate diet containing naturally low levels of vitamin E offers the biggest bonus for extending shelf-life, but supplementing grass-fed cattle is also effective.

"Using diets supplemented with vitamin E offers advantages throughout the food chain.

"For retailers it reduces rejection of beef at the end of its shelf life. Savings are also made by processors since there is evidence that it reduces drip loss. For producers, it helps ensure a market for their product and improves its attractiveness, but currently, no-one is willing to pay a premium for this."

The cost of adding the vitamin works out at about £1-£1.50/head but it extends shelf-life by up to four days, according to MLC meat scientist Kim Matthews. Prof Wood believes this is a relatively low cost but accepts that the industry in unwilling to add to producers costs at the moment. &#42

VITAMINE

&#8226 Reduces beef discolouration.

&#8226 Extends shelf-life.

&#8226 Costs £1-1.50/animal.