Is grass-fed beef a ‘cut’ above the rest?

Investigating whether grass-fed beef is better than other types of beef for consumers was the focus of a Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine funded project undertaken by Teagasc and University College Dublin (UCD).

The project examined the scientific basis for any potential nutrition and health claims that could be associated with grass-fed beef.

The findings from this work were the topic of a one-day workshop held at the Teagasc Food Research Centre, Ashtown, Dublin, today (Tuesday, December 11).

L-R: Sinead O’Mahony, FSAI; Aidan Moloney, Teagasc; Briege McNulty, UCD; Joe Burke, Bord Bia; Helen Roche, UCD; Maeve Henchion, Teagasc; and Frank Monahan, UCD

At the event the audience heard the results of the nutritional analysis of Irish grass-fed beef and the implications of differences in the composition of grass-fed and concentrate-fed beef for the quality of the human diet and the health of the consumer.

Joe Burke of Bord Bia outlined the market requirements for beef and the opportunities for Irish grass-fed beef.

Meanwhile, Prof. Aidan Moloney of Teagasc and Prof. Frank Monahan of UCD reported that grass-fed beef has higher concentrations of several minerals and fatty acids (particularly conjugated linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid) which are of benefit to cardio-vascular health.

Dr. Breige McNulty of UCD used a predictive modelling analysis to demonstrate that consumption of grass-fed beef could improve population adherence to dietary recommendations for total fat, saturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Dr. McNulty said: “Dietary recommendations can be hard for people to adhere to.

Our work in UCD has shown that consuming grass-fed beef can help more people to meet their dietary recommendations for total fat, saturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Prof. Helen Roche of UCD stated that modelling exercises have demonstrated that supplementing a high-fat diet with a small amount of the beneficial fatty acids found in grass-fed beef – conjugated linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid – can improve what are known as “biomarkers” of cardio-metabolic health, indicating their potential to reduce the potential negative effect of high-fat diets.

Subsequent work in the form of a pilot human study, however, did not show that grass-fed beef resulted in improved health profiles.

Prof. Roche said: “This was a pilot study of short duration; a more prolonged intervention may specifically improve risk factors relating to heart disease and diabetes risk.”

Sinead O’Mahony of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland discussed the current regulation on nutrition and health claims with respect to beef composition.

In a facilitated workshop, Prof. Maeve Henchion of Teagasc worked with the industry and academic workshop participants to identify how these research results can be used to benefit Irish consumers, meat companies and farmers.

Prof. Henchion said: “Grass-fed beef is different to other beef on the market place. We need to use this evidence, and continue to support the strong position of Irish beef in the market.”