HEALTHY Business

7. Supporting meat traceability in the supply chain..

Supporting meat traceability in the supply chain using genetic assays

High profile examples of contamination of processed beef products with material from horses and pigs have highlighted the importance of correct labelling and verification of materials in the food supply chain. Consumer confidence in the meat industry overall is strongly influenced by ideas of traceability ‘from farm to fork’. Products labelled in this way attract a significant premium. Consequently, there is a need for rapid and reliable testing procedures that can test the provenance of beef products, both in terms of the breed of cattle from which it comes, and potentially also the farm it was reared on. Over 98% of cattle slaughtered as prime beef in the UK come from 12 breeds of cattle. We have established a database of the single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that occur in these breeds. A SNP is a variation in a single nucleotide at a given point in the genome. The frequency and locations of SNPs varies between breeds; we can therefore take a meat sample from a supermarket and interrogate the database to determine the likelihood of the sample coming from one of the characterised breeds. Furthermore, since herds from different farms can also be distinguished using the same technique, we can use it to trace a product back to the farm of origin. Another potential use of the testing procedure is to detect meat from other species (e.g. contamination by horsemeat) or the proportion of meats from varying species for mixed meat products.

We are:

  • Demonstrating the usefulness of genetic testing in the tracking and verification of meat products from farm to fork.
  • Working with breed societies (cattle and pig) to establish whether SNP variation is sufficient to extend the approach to other species and breed types within them.

For more information contact: Dr Matt Hegarty ayh@aber.ac.uk

8. Home grown forages as sustainable protein feed

Home grown forages as sustainable protein feed

The UK imports significant quantities of the protein fed to animals. Imported soya meal accounts for 33% of the protein in UK livestock feeds, the majority of which is transgenic soya from South America. Public concerns over traceability and product quality, coupled with an increasing global demand for animal feeds, presents a drive to increase our production of vegetable proteins on UK farms. High-protein, home-grown forages provide a sustainable opportunity as alternative, traceable sources of protein for ruminant livestock. A 2012 survey of ruminant livestock farmers found that whilst 69% grew the legume white clover, use of other forage proteins such as lucerne and perennial chicory was much lower. The reasons most often cited for not growing these crops were a lack of knowledge of establishment methods and uncertainty about management strategies. Better understanding of how best to conserve novel forages as silage and how to optimise feeding regimes were also identified as a means to help farmers to derive maximum benefit. These barriers have been targeted in a collaborative project involving IBERS, seed producers Germinal, and producers and processors in the Waitrose supply chains for beef, lamb and dairy through a combination of replicated plot and field scale experiments
and experiential learning case studies on participating farms. Farmers who have started growing their own forage protein are pleased with the results. Making the most of forage has always been at the heart of our commercial beef unit. Rotational grazing cattle and making high quality silage gives us the basis for a sustainable business and helps to limit the effects of volatile concentrate costs”. Ian Farrant, Worcester

We are:

  • Engaging across ruminant livestock supply chains to better understand the needs of the industry and consumers.
  • Exploiting our underpinning research in grass and clover breeding and agronomy to reduce reliance on imported protein for animal feed.
  • Working with farmers to understand and address practical constraints to increased use of protein forages in farm systems.
  • Facilitating behaviour change that helps increase economic and environmental efficiency of production.

For more information contact: Dr Christina Marley cvm@aber.ac.uk

9. Delivering training & education opps. to farmers

Delivering innovative training and education opportunities to farmers

In addition to its range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses, IBERS has developed training opportunities aimed at farmers and agricultural industry professionals. Our IBERS Distance Learning programme run in conjunction with Bangor University delivers modules on topics ranging from soil management and ecosystem services to silage science and ruminant nutrition. Material includes tailored reading material, videos and podcasts, alongside opportunities for participants to interact via online forums. Participants can study individual modules or can choose to accumulate credits to gain qualifications up to the level of a professional doctorate. We also work with Lantra, a nationally recognised organisation offering training and qualifications to the land based and environmental sectors. The e-learning material we have developed for Lantra is in the form of short interactives aimed at supporting and reinforcing practical advice and training coming through knowledge exchange and training programmes. IBERS also acts as the Knowledge Exchange Hub for Farming Connect– a Welsh Government programme supporting the development of a more professional, profitable and resilient land based sector. Staff based at IBERS provide reviews of the latest thinking; these are then published on the Farming Connectwebsite and disseminated by Farming Connectadvisors.

We are:

  • Maximising the impact of our own research and that of others by developing research-led teaching relevant to the farming industry.
  • Accelerating the uptake of good farming practice by providing multiple routes for knowledge exchange.
  • Equipping UK agriculture to deal with the challenges of climate change and food security

For more information contact: Ms Martine Spittle rjs@aber.ac.uk