Scientist shares international experience in beefing up meat quality
Stephen Smith, Ph.D., a Texas A&M AgriLife Research professor in the Department of Animal Science at Texas A&M University in College Station, spoke about his international efforts to help bolster the beef industry at a recent seminar on the Texas A&M campus.
Smith, at the invitation of the Norman Borlaug Institute of International Agriculture, shared information with institute staff and others interested in international agriculture about his years of research and practical experience studying beef cattle from Australia, Japan, Korea and China.
His decades of research and investigation have taken him to Japan 14 times, Korea seven times, Australia five times and China three times.
"The majority of what I've done in my research during the past decade has involved the improvement of beef carcass quality and taste related to fat content, as well as the development of beef with a healthier type of fat," Smith said.
He said his study of Angus cattle in Australia that first showed him how the quality of beef fat could be affected by what cattle were fed, as well as their genetics.
Smith said Shogo Takeda, owner of Takeda Farms in Hokkaido, Japan, once told him marbling and fatty acid composition are "about 60 percent genetics and 40 percent production."
"In Australia, they do not feed their cattle as much corn as we do here in the U.S. because they don't have suitable growing conditions for it," Smith explained. "Instead, their main feed grains are typically wheat and barley. As a result, the fat produced is harder and has a higher amount of saturated and trans fat."
While pasture-raised Angus cattle in the U.S. and other countries produce a leaner beef, he said, the fat composition of that beef is higher in saturated fat and trans fats.
Smith said cattle raised in Japan and Korea, where the animals are fed more corn, produce a more marbled beef with a "healthier" type of fat.
"The marbling and overlying fat content in grain-fed beef has much less saturated and trans-fat than do the fat deposits in grass-fed beef," he said.
"Japanese black and Japanese brown cattle are considered Wagyu and both have high marbling and oleic acid content," Smith said. "Beef from Japanese cattle is much lower in saturated fat than that from our domestic beef."
The beef from Akaushi or Wagyu cattle, which originated in China, have nearly 50 percent more oleic acid content as American grass-fed beef, he said, adding that oleic acid content makes not only for better tasting beef, but also healthier, beef.
"Oils like olive or canola are the best sources of monounsaturated fatty acids and contain 60 to 70 percent oleic acid," he said "Research shows oleic acid increases the HDL or 'good' cholesterol and decreases LDL or 'bad' cholesterol in humans."
In China, high-quality beef is being produced from Chinese yellow cattle, and in Korea, the native Hanwoo breed is the primary beef type, but Holstein steers contribute significantly to beef supplies in China, Korea and Japan, Smith explained.
"Additionally, Japanese cattle are fed in stages, but American cattle are fed just one diet," he said. "Young steers are mostly forage-fed, while older steers are mostly given concentrate," Smith said.
Asian cattle, particularly Japanese cattle, have marbling with a higher oleic acid content, he said.
Along similar lines, in 2008 Smith chaired a thesis study by a Texas A&M animal science graduate student which showed beef brisket fat was rich in healthy monounsaturated fatty acids.
"The fat in beef brisket from corn-fed steers contains nearly 50 percent oleic acid, and the percentage of oleic acid increases the longer cattle are fed a corn-based diet," he said.
Smith said while some U.S. meat processors generally shy away from the word "fat" as an anathema to health-conscious consumers, producers of Wagyu beef raised in Japan or Australia aren't afraid of the association with fat.
"Wagyu beef is known for its high marbling and monounsaturated fat," he said. "They're not afraid of marketing fat content, and I hope the rest of the industry sees that."
High-quality beef cattle production in Asia has been migrating from Japan to Korea to China, Smith said. The Chinese are actively promoting the production of beef in China and their goal is to produce sufficient high-quality beef for their entire population.
"Beef consumption in China has risen 240 percent in the last 10 years and total Chinese meat consumption is double that of the U.S.," he said. "As the demand for high-quality beef in Asia increases, if the U.S. beef cattle industry wants to be competitive in Asia, it will need to provide beef with characteristics preferred by consumers in that portion of the global marketplace."
Competition for the Japanese beef market in the early 1990s promoted the production of high-quality beef in Australia, Korea and the U.S., Smith said. Today, the production of high-quality beef in China is a reflection of that country's new affluence and its desire for food security.
"And for increasingly health-conscious American consumers as well, U.S. cattle producers need to focus not only on the amount of marbling, but on the fatty acid composition of the beef they're producing," he said. "This would apply not only to more expensive premium cuts, but also to ground beef, all-beef hot dogs and other beef products being produced and marketed."
Smith's lecture was part of an ongoing seminar series held by the Borlaug Institute. The series runs through each semester and is meant to raise awareness of global agricultural initiatives in accordance with the institute's mission of increasing the world's food supply while developing agricultural economies. More information can be found at http://borlaug.tamu.edu.