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Eating quality fundamental role in NZ story

New Zealand has a great beef story to tell, but we must not forget about eating quality, AbacusBio consultant Jason Archer told beef producers at a recent field day.

Think animal freedom, environmental sustainability, looking after the land, and nourishing the animals – these themes form an authentic basis to the NZ beef story.

However, above all, taste is still the deal breaker – people may love the story, but unless the eating experience is consistently a great one, they will not repeat purchase a branded product. Beef producers play a crucial role in that eating experience.

With the emergence of synthetic and plant-based meats, Jason admits that the red meat industry faces a real threat.

These synthetic products are marketed to hit all the points that NZ beef tries to differentiate on, such as welfare, environmental impact, and food safety. However, NZ red meat is still in high demand due to our excellent standards of animal welfare, environmental sustainability, food safety, and provenance.

At the end of the day, a good eating experience is needed to underpin the grass-fed, ethically-produced red meat story.

There is an inter-dependent combination of genetics, on-farm practices, and management decisions, which can all, in one way or another, influence eating quality. The rule of thumb, Jason emphasises, is to breed well, feed well, and handle well.

When selecting for genetics to improve meat quality, consider key estimated breeding values (EBVs) for traits such as intramuscular fat, 600-day weight, rib and rump fat, and even temperament.

“Meat quality comes in many different genetic packages, so it is important to discuss these EBVs with your bull breeders.”

Younger animals also tend to have more tender meat, as older animals have more connective tissue in their muscles, which makes their meat tougher.

The key is to maximise feed intake, grow them fast, and finish them early – whilst at the same time, handling them well.

“Try to avoid inducing stress in animals in the four weeks prior to slaughter. Stress and activity use up the energy store in the muscle – called glycogen – and having a good store of glycogen in the muscle when the animal is slaughtered is important to achieve target pH.”

This includes not walking animals long distances, minimising the use of dogs, and not using electric prodders for loading.

We must not take our beef markets for granted, and continue telling great stories about NZ beef – as well as ensuring premium eating quality.