Breeding Healthier Beef

A new market niche could result from a study to change fatty acid content in cattle.

Genetics from Brahman cattle could help alter types and amounts of fat found in beef, Image by Becky Mills

Would consumers pay more for beef that has higher nutritional levels? One University of Florida (UF) researcher believes they might. She’s already finding some breeds of cattle yield healthier meat than others.


Raluca Mateescu, associate professor of animal sciences at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, presented her findings on the subject to the Florida Cattlemen’s Association recently. She is looking for ways to change the fatty acid content in beef.


“Research in the last decade shows the amount of fat in the diet is not really linked with diseases,” Mateescu says. “What is becoming clearer is that bad fats, meaning trans- and short-length saturated fats, increase the risk for coronary heart disease and other diseases. While good fats--meaning mono- and polyunsaturated, and longer-length saturated fat--lower the risk. The key to a healthy diet is not to reduce total fat intake but to substitute bad fats for good fats.”


Mateescu and her research colleagues found, for example, that steaks from Brahman cattle had more polyunsaturated and less saturated fat than Angus. They reported that comparing Brahman to Angus, saturated fats declined from 51.3 to 47.5%, and polyunsaturated fats increased from 4.3 to 6.9%. Using these criteria, they say, the Brahman was a healthier source of meat.


The researchers are working to develop genetic tools that will allow producers to identify those cattle that meet specific standards for nutritional health so producers can select and manage, and ultimately market, this healthier beef. A healthier steak would have less saturated and more unsaturated fatty acid, among other criteria.


In a survey of 1,000 people, UF researchers found consumers were willing to pay $1 to $1.50 more per pound for beef they believe to be healthier.

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