12 October 2001


By Richard Allison

CHANGING cattle breed and feeding a new linseed-based product could produce healthier beef, according to recent research.

Consumers are becoming more aware of whether food is healthy, said Nigel Scollan, head of the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Researchs beef programme, at a Beef 2001 seminar.

"There is a link between high saturated fat intake and coronary heart disease. Human nutritionists are increasingly keen that people increase their intakes of omega-3 fatty acids relative to omega-6 fatty acids."

Beef is a low fat product, typically 2-4% fat, but is high in saturated fats and low in omega-3 fatty acids. This led to research at IGER investigating a number of strategies for producing healthier beef to improve its image.

The first project looked at breed effects. Beef from double-muscling breeds, such as Belgian Blue, contains less fat and is richer in omega-3 fatty acids than beef typically found on sale in the UK.

"In addition, beef from purebred Welsh Black cattle has a better unsaturated-to-saturated fat ratio and contains more omega-3 fatty acids compared with Holstein-Friesians."

The project also looked at changing the animals diet to enhance meat fatty acid composition. Finishing cattle on grass increases polyunsaturated fat content of beef and improves flavour. The project is now investigating why beef tastes better from grass-fed cattle.

Feeding whole linseed to cattle is also known to increase omega-3 fatty acid content, but the unsaturated-to-saturated fat ratio has remained unchanged despite various attempts to alter it. This is due to the rumen converting unsaturated fat in linseed into saturated fat, he explained.

But a new linseed product has been developed by the institute to overcome this conversion in the rumen. Feeding the product to beef cattle halved the unsaturated-to-saturated fat ratio in beef.

"This shows strategies are available to produce healthier beef. However, producers are unlikely to take this on without receiving a premium for the product."

Changing cattle diets can make beef healthier, says Nigel Scollan.


&#8226 2-4% fat.

&#8226 Breed effect.

&#8226 Feed effect.

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