Raising Perfect Beef Through Science

The Lempert Report
January 22, 2015

Gone are the days where cattle farmers are unsure of the quality of their meat.

We often talk about innovative food products, but what about innovative food production? Take for example, breeding cattle.  You may be surprised to learn that these days, when farmer raise cattle, the quality of meat they end up with is no surprise. Thanks to some innovative technology, more and more farmers now use DNA testing to scan the genes of their animals to help yield tastier results.   And those tests have become so sophisticated that farmers can almost tell from birth how many pounds the animals will pack on, and how much rich, marbled beef they'll yield.
One of those cattle ranchers is Kansas Cattle Breeder, Mark Gardiner, whose family runs Gardiner Angus Ranch.  He told us that at his ranch, quote, "We actually did our first DNA work as a research project with the University of Illinois in 1986. We were part of the Beta testing of the current technology beginning in 2008. We fully incorporated this technology into our decision making process in 2009."
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal; The American Angus Association estimates that about 20% of the purebred animals registered under its breed in 2014 were genetically tested, up from less than 1% in 2010. When we spoke with Gardiner he said;

"In reality the amount of U.S. Beef producers doing this would be less than 1/10 of 1 percent.  The technology is new. There is always an adaptation period for producers. There are always doubters, and there is always the cost to benefit ratio. In our family’s business it is critical that we multiply the superior animals. In many other Beef producers business they would view the cost and hassle would not be worth it"

Such genetic testing has been developed by companies including food-safety firm Neogen Corp. and animal-drug maker Zoetis Inc.  So how much is it and what does it involve? According to the Wall Street Journal, cattle breeders are paying up to $100 an animal for DNA testing and generally involves just sending blood to a lab. And Gardiner told us that "much like other “raw” food products, the cost of producing the live animal has very little impact on the price at the supermarket.This innovative technology also allows meat packers, like Cargill and Tyson Foods to keep up with consumers trends. Donnie Smith,  chief executive of Tyson told the Wall Street Journal, “If consumer demand for more high-quality, more-marbled beef is what we’ll see in the future, the market will react to that and move in that way.”
And when we asked Mark Gardiner the benefit for the consumer, his answer was simple; A higher quality product and greater selection in the meat case is a direct benefit for the consumer. For example, in a few short years, the availability of USDA Choice and Prime has significantly increased at the supermarket level, and is much more affordable. We have moved from trimming excess fat in the meat market to genetically “trimming” the fat without compromising tenderness or flavor. Those dramatic quality changes to beef, by having more genomic information, are of great benefit to the consumer. The increased availability of higher quality beef is a direct result of using science and technology, like DNA testing, to breed and feed better beef.