Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
August 24, 2001
What's for dinner? Tender steaks made from kinder cows
A University of Guelph professor is on a quest to find the genetic code for the healthiest, affordable and most tender beef steak to put on your dinner table.
While he is at it, beef cattle geneticist Stephen Miller also hopes to discover which cattle breeds get along best with others at the feeding trough. That way, he can find a genetic combination for beef cattle that both taste better and make life easier for farmers. “Our goal is to build a better beef market,” Miller says, adding Canada’s beef industry contributes about $20 million annually to the economy. “This is a tool to help farmers do just that.”
The “tool” is more than $2 million of equipment that will be used to develop unprecedented breeding programs to improve both production efficiency and meat quality. It is the first time such equipment has existed in one facility. The research is being funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Ontario Innovation Trust and private partners. It will involve some 400 beef cattle at a state-of-the-art evaluation and production facility. The animals will wear tiny ear tags that send radio signals to researchers. This will allow researchers to monitor when the animals are eating, how much and with whom, and to closely follow their “table manners.” “Many animals behaviour characteristics have a genetic component,” says Miller, a professor in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science. “Less fighting among animals also means less bruising and a higher quality product.”
The animals’ body composition will also be carefully documented using ultrasound, infrared and digital imaging. Meat quality measurements, including tests for tenderness, will be taken and DNA and tissue analysis conducted. “In the past, one of the major limitations to research has been animal measurement,” Miller says. “This equipment will increase capacity for measurement five fold, and make it more accurate and efficient.”
Information about the beef cattle will be fed into a huge electronic data system. It will allow Miller to match up corresponding tissue and DNA information with behaviour and feeding efficiency and beef quality information and develop genetic markers for the best beef cattle. “Beef quality has not been addressed from a genetic perspective in a major way, yet it has been identified as a major contributor to consumer demand,” he says.
“This research will help us serve the consumer by putting the highest quality product on their dinner table. It will assist farmers in improving their breeding and feeding methods.” As an added bonus, the facility will provide equipment unavailable elsewhere, allowing Guelph to attract and retain researchers. It will also foster collaboration with other faculty and the private sector, he says.
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