Opinion

Is beef the new super food?

There’s little doubt that a good beef dinner puts University College Dublin’s Prof. Patrick Wall in fine form.

He gave the keynote address at the recent Farm Quality Assurance (FQAS) 25th anniversary celebration, hosted by the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) for Northern Ireland.

Specifically, Wall said that beef could play a role in halting the ageing process. This is because the protein in redmeat can be used to build muscle mass in humans, from middle-age onwards.

Taking this approach means that older people can obtain higher levels of physical fitness, than would have been the case up to now. 

This, in turn, helps ward-off the scourge of dementia and other similar conditions. It also means that older people are less prone to falling, which leads to less hip replacements and the associated medical procedures.

The only downside to all of this, which Wall was quick to point out himself, is that older people may not have the teeth to chew the steaks and other beef products presented to them on a plate.

But there was a very serious side to the message that Wall was preaching at the LMC event. We already know that the protein profile in bovine blood, for example, is an almost exact match to that required by humans of all ages, from a dietary point of view.

The over-arching assessment that farmers are in the health business, as opposed to being simple purveyors of nutrition, really does stand up to scrutiny.

What the milk industry has done with whey protein, as a source of muscle-building ingredients, is a template which the beef sector can now replicate.

Two decades ago whey was, essentially, regarded as a waste product by the dairy industry, whereas today it is one of that sector’s most valuable resources.

And it does not take a genius to work out that the beef industry could quite easily convert a number of products that are currently sold as commodities into sources of highly-valued, super-food ingredients that can command premium prices around the world.

Adding value is the future for the beef sector, a point which Prof. Wall made repeatedly at the FQAS dinner. We do not produce cheap food here in Ireland. Adherence to EU quality standards and the constraints of the minimum wage have combined to make this a reality.

Yes, we can produce oceans of grazed grass. But we are deluding ourselves if we think this is a passport to a world where we can seriously compete on international, commodity markets.

Adding value is the future for the Irish livestock sector. And the sooner we recognise the benefits of profiling beef’s super-food credentials, the sooner the industry can deliver long-term, sustainable prices to farmers.

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