Ellen Adams 3.

20 Animal Production II

The Effect of Dietary Fat on Carcass Composition and Meat Quality of Cattle
Introduction Fat digestion and metabolism varies widely amongst animal species commonly perpetrated in livestock farming within the UK. In the beef industry excess fat production is directly linked with a decrease in profit due to its coupling with a rise in associated ‘Diseases of the Western Civilisation’ -especially those of a cardiovascular nature (Marshall 1994; Scollan et al., 2001). Consumer demand is increasingly moving towards ‘healthier’ means of fulfilling nutritional requirements. This essay will therefore analyse the effects of current feeding methods upon the nutritional status of beef carcasses, and the means with which industry is attempting to manipulate carcass fat content in order to minimise fats detrimental to human health, whilst maximising those proving physiologically beneficial. The Role of Lipids in the Ruminant Lipids constitute less than 3% of overall dietary energy, being derived mainly from saturated, monounsaturated, and highly polyunsaturated stores, found in animal tallow, soybean, and fish/linseed oil respectively, as well as various forage and grain (Chilliard, 1993). They are fed to cattle for a variety of reasons, including their energy density, economic cost, use in the manipulation of nutrient uptake and digestion in the rumen (for example lipids reduce ruminal acidosis caused by carbohydrate-dense diets) and also for the satiation of consumer demand (Landblom et al, 2002). Lipid uptake is a particularly difficult feat to encourage in ruminants, as fatty acid composition is determined largely by the symbiotic interaction of the rumen microflora with dietary components, eluting an array of responses in relation to which fats are supplemented (Rule et al., 1994; Felton and Kerley, 2004).

Table 1. The differences in ruminal pH, concentrations of volatile fatty acids (VFAs), and total ammonia production in relation to molar proportion. (Courtesy of Onetti et al., 2001)

The previous table illustrates the differences incurred when feeding a choice of only two lipid fractions. The significant differences observed suggest that digestion of the many lipid fractions in existence would elute variable responses. When dietary fat (consisting mainly of unsaturated fatty acids) is ingested, it is converted to saturated fatty acids (SFAs), of which oleate is the predominant fatty acid form in both bovine muscle and adipose tissue. However, source of dietary fat has an overall influence upon the degree of fatty acid saturation and therefore the overall profile of the animal. It is recommended at present that humans should consume a diet low in saturated fat but of higher polyunsaturated levels (PUFA); particularly of the long chain (C20) n-3 and n-6 variety as they cannot be synthesised directly by the body and thus require a source of α-linolenic (18:3n-3) and linoleic acid (18:2n-3) found only in meat, fish, and eggs (Xu et al., 2006). These FAs are the sole fats to be beneficial to overall health status, and are commonly sought after by consumers in sources such as salmon and nuts due to negative disorders, e.g. colon cancer, being correlated with heightened consumption of red meat (Eynard and Lopez,2003). It is currently being postulated, therefore, that improving the quality of carcasses by altering their fatty acid composition so as to meet consumer demand for PUFA-dense meat, will improve the economy of the beef sector. One strategy used to enrich PUFA composition of beef is to feed untreated wholegrains, as research suggests that the seed coating protects the inner FA contents from hydrogenation (Aldrich et al., 1997; Mach et al., 2006). Others include treating the seed with calcium to form saponified products, or with formaldehyde, which prevents microbial digestion in the rumen, but is degraded once within the acidic conditions of the abomasum (Philips. 2001). The table below illustrates how varying the diet just slightly, for example by increasing grazing allowance, may resulting in an improved uptake of FAs.

Table 2. The fatty acid composition of beef in relation to feed type and intake. Courtesy of www.csuchico.edu/.../beno3-o6.html [Accessed 11th February 2007]

Carcass Composition How a carcass is evaluated depends upon its intended market and the products it will be sold as. Grade, yield grade, and carcass weight are the most important carcass traits (Drake 2004), all of which analyse the relative proportions of lean tissue, bone, and fat and are dependant upon the management of growth and development by the farmer. In order to produce the most economically viable stock, feeding must be tailored to breed characteristics in order to prevent excessive fat deposition. In a study by the National Beef Quality Audit, concerns with regards to fat deposition were numerous compared to other quality concerns (Smith 1995; Gilbert et al., 2003). It found that feeding protected lipid resulted in augmented levels of fat thickness and therefore marbling development, dependant upon cattle breed. Breeds which mature early, such as the Dexter and Aberdeen Angus, deposit fat more easily than those which mature later (such as Holstein/Friesians) and for this reason are usually culled at a younger age (Chapple, 2001). To increase lean tissue mass therefore, a rate of gain of less than 0.9kg/day should be provided by a diet of low metabolisable energy (ME), in order to provide energy for maintenance and slight growth, minimising fat deposition whilst maximising protein deposition, and thereby enabling the animal to attain a higher slaughter-weight (Sainz and Paganini, 2004). Intake of energy above maintenance requirements is the most prominent contributor towards detrimental lipid accumulation in the carcass and is in fact directly related days on feed. Although one would expect a proportionate increment in weight to result from a diet yielding a higher ME1, research actually suggests that if this net increase is due to increased levels of PUFAs, carcass weight, dressing percentage, fat thickness, yield grade, and longissimus area are not negatively affected (Krehbiel et al., 1995). However, marbling scores were found to be higher if cattle were fed sources derived from animal or plant sources. Those derived from tallow or pure oil, in contrast, are found to reduce marbling (Clary et al., 1993; Andrae et al., 2001).

Effects of Different Sources of Dietary Fat The most common diet in the UK supplied to beef cattle, and that which is found to be most economical, is composed mainly of grass silage mixed with barley-based concentrates (Nelson et al., 2004; Greathead et al., 2006). However, research suggests this may not actually be the most appropriate diet for beef production due to is characteristically high fat:protein ratio, low feed intake, and net energy yield which result in heightened accretion of carcass fat and lowered quality grading (Steen, 1991). Fat should not be included at levels above 5% DM2 due to marked decreases in fibre and protein digestibility in the rumen, although 7% DM may be ingested if fed as wholegrains due to their slower decompositions (Garcia et al., 2003).

Metabolisable energy; 2 Dry matter

Wholegrains, as previously depicted, are high in PUFAs and can therefore interact with lipid profiles in the organism to alter lipid fraction ratios. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a generic term which collates all isomers of linoleic and linolenic acid together- the most common of which is cis-9, trans-11-and is attenuated to the FAs which arise due to ruminal processes, the most common of which is stearic acid (Eynard and Lopez, 2003; Garcia et al., 2003; Pariza et al., 2001;). It is a very beneficial dietary component, found (in monogastrics) to reduce adiposity by preventing proliferation and lipogenesis, thereby resulting in a leaner carcass. Results have been conflicting in ruminants, proving attributable results solely in experiments where CLA was infused into the abomasum (Evans et al., 2000; Dugan et al., 1997; Garcia et al., 2003). However, natural incorporation into the diet may occur solely via two methods: 1. By decreasing concentrates rations and thereby naturally increasing consumption of grasses. 2. Through the addition of CLA supplements in the form of wholegrains (French et al., 2000; Eynard and Lopez, 2003). CLA derivatives are naturally incorporated into ruminant adipose tissue prior to full saturation, and are distributed within interstitial non-visible fat depots, as well as subcutaneously. The latter does not pose any problem apart from when classifying a carcass as visual fatty depots can be removed and thus ocular preference is not affected. The former however, has been found to prove extremely beneficial in lean cuts of meat as it will contain lower concentrations of saturated fat, and higher PUFA concentrations up to the value of 25-50g/kg BW (Moloney et al., 2001), as opposed to fatty sub-products that dilute CLA components due to their high SFA and cholesterol content.

Table 3. Proportions of total fats, saturated fats, and cholesterol deposited in fatty or lean beef that has consumed a CLA-rich diet. (Adapted from : Eynard and Lopez, 2003)

The table above illustrates that lean meat contains a ratio of CLA double that of fatty meat, even though total fat ratio is halved. Other dietary lipids have been used for many years in order to potentiate CLA accretion in lean tissues. For example, plant oils such as soybean oil are a paramount source of linoleic and linolenic acids and may be added to the diet to no detriment to overall bovine growth or dry matter intake (factors which should be maximal in order to attain a desired carcass in minimal

length of time) for subsequent conversion into CLA (Beaulieu et al., 2002; Griswold et al., 2003). They result in increases in CLA precursors, thought to be due to their ability to limit PUFA toxicity effects, and have therefore also been related to alteration of fatty acid composition. High oil corn is commonly used in an energy-dense diet, being a primary source of unsaturated FAs. Currently, however, research also suggests it to infact alter the pattern of lipid deposition in steers fed finishing diets, by increasing meat quality and marbling scoring- as was also found to occur in steers fed soybeans and sunflower seeds (Andrae et al., 2001, Rule et al., 1994; Felton and Kerley, 1998). Particular inference has been given to fats high in oleate, such as in canola oil, due to their augmentative properties in relation to the nutritional composition of meat.

Table 4. Effect of diet on carcass characteristics of feedlot steers (Courtesy of Andrae et al., 2001)

Carcass Development Physiological development begins in the uterus and marks the most important stage in carcass development. Growth stature occurs in three processes, each of which overlaps with the other. Firstly, maximal bone growth occurs and begins to increase in density, preceded by muscle, then fat. All three are maximal at the foetal extremities such as the head and hooves, therefore any laydown of bodily reserves will occur at the abdomen ultimately, resulting in large extremities and a slighter core. Nutrient partitioning facilitates both bone and muscle development to enable the calf to function and move normally at birth; with fatty reserves only being laid down in periods of extreme positive energy balance, therefore usual resulting in minimal laydown at the time of parturition (Allen, 1990). Subsequent to parturition, bovine carcasses rapidly begin to accumulate muscle, thereby increasing the overall muscle: bone ratio. However, maturity results in the accumulation of fat deposition within adipose tissue of variable size depending upon depository site; commencing

in the KPH (kidney, pelvis, and heart) regions, followed by intermuscular, subcutaneous, then intramuscular areas (Hood and Allen, 1973).

Fig 1. Beef carcass breakdown. [online] Available from www.askthemeatman.com (no author, 2006).

The growth of cattle is largely marked by an overall increase in adipose cell diameter, of which their size was largely determined by the area in which lipids were deposited: either intermuscular, subcutaneous, or interfasicular; the latter of which is often known to produce the effect known as marbling (Hood and Allen, 1973). Carcass Classification The quality grade of a carcass is usually determined visually by the amount of marbling (the flecks of fat on the surface of the ribeye muscle) between the 12th and 13th ribs whereby the denser the marbling, the higher the meat grade. Marbling grading is based either on a scale of 1-20 (whereby 1 =devoid and 2= abundant) (Drake, 2004). In the UK, beef production usually culls cattle at ages younger than 30 months due to impending governmental guidelines induced after that age both on the farm site and in the abattoir.

Classifying carcasses enables both farmer and abattoir to assess the suitability and value of a carcass in terms of weight, conformation, and fatness, in order to predetermine its usage. Weight is regarded as standatory, with prerequisites for an animal to be of average weight for its breed. However, conformation and fatness are both anomalies upon which an animal will be scored in order to place it in the appropriate category in a grid known as the EUROP table (illustrated below):

Fig 2. The EUROP grading system. (Adapted from Drake, 2004)

The scale, horizontal across the top is the scale for fatness. It analyses the amount of fat visible to the meat inspector. The vertical scale represents conformation and describes the carcass in terms of shape (whether it is a concave or convex profile), and flesh coverage (the ratio of muscle to fat in terms of bone size). The area shaded is grey is that which is most desirable and therefore attracts the premium payments. Conformation is a highly desirable feature as it signifies that lean musculature is significant in desired areas, thereby maximising profit. The better the conformation, therefore, the higher the percentage lean deposition, and the more attractive the meat cuts obtained. However, one problem with conformation is that its description in terms of the ‘thickness’ of meat implies that fat accumulation is actually desirable in improving conformation overall, even though eventually desirability declines as fat necessitates to be trimmed off, thus reducing meat sale quality and profitability. Meat Quality Marbling contributes positively to the palatability of meat, increasing tenderness, flavour, and colour, and therefore the overall economic yield of the animal. However, the requirement for flavour satiety in society nowadays is extremely variable due to new concerns over health and well-being. Excessive deposition of fat in all areas is now associated more than ever with economic loss not only for its detrimental effects upon the composition and toughness of meat, but also for its implications in visual aesthetics (due to excessive marbling and fat trim) and health status in the consumer diet. In today’s consumer society, preference prevails for meat of

the ratio as close to 90:10% (in terms of percentage lean:fat) as possible, in order to eliminate the perception of plate wastage. There is a desire also to eliminate seam fat due to the high degree of meat wastage that it too induces. However, as this cannot essentially be trimmed from meat cuts, its overall deposit has been focussed upon, with particular emphasis upon minimising deposition at maturity, thereby inducing a low ratio of seam to subcutaneous fat (Allen, 1990). Cost of Production and Value Received Economical production is a very important factor when considering aspects related to the targeting of achievement of maximal growth, in the shortest time period, at the lowest cost. Over the past two decades, beef consumption has been in decline-as illustrated by the graph below:

Graph 1. Percentage of total beef consumed graded ‘desirable’ by the USDA. Courtesy of www.ams.u sda.gov/lsg/ mgc/charts/ graphs.htm [Accessed 10th February, 2007]

Farmers ideally strive to minimise feeding costs as figures published by EBLEX indicate the reality of the ease at which profit from beef production can be made. It has been surveyed that producers make a loss of between £74.37 and £425.39 per head, due in large to misguidance regarding consumer demand. For this reason it would therefore appear feasible to increase nutritive expenditure with the aim of increasing overall consumer demand for products that conform to current health beliefs.


Although cattle are not naturally predisposed to high levels of dietary lipids, many benefits are associated with their ingestion. In today’s society, health is a major prerequisite of consumer demand. PUFA’s have been publicised as being of considerable benefit to consumer health and have initiated a heightened demand for products that meet these requirements. Not only have they been found to increase overall fatty status of meat, but they have also been found to increase growth rate and carcass quality, without the production of detrimental effects upon palatability and tenderness. It may be concluded, therefore, that dietary lipids are of considerable benefit economically, in the production of beef. However, specific lipid content of the diet is unlikely to have a significant positive effect due to rumen digestive mechanisms, and thus in order to produce positive effects, further research would be required to confirm the effects of individual fats.


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