The revolution in genetics research in the past 10 years — specifically nutrigenomics or the study of the effects of foods and food constituents on gene expression — has the potential to make a tremendous impact on the future of meat production.
Dr. Karl Dawson, Alltech vice president and chief scientific officer of research, said at the opening session of Alltech’s 28th Annual International Symposium that while "we have always paid attention to genetics in the meat production industry, we have only used genetics to breed for improved productivity." The relatively new science of nutrigentics will allow meat producers to increase productivity and quality through the proper application of nutrition at specific stages in the animal's development.
In the last five years, researchers have discovered that what the mother is fed during pregnancy impacts the genomic outcome of the animal. "We have discovered that environmental influence turns on and turns off genes in animals. This has been found in animals, humans and multiple tests," explained Dawson. "There is a lifelong alteration in physiology associated with nutrition."
In the poultry industry, trials have been done using early stage nutrition that controls the feeding in the first 96 hours for the conditioning of birds' gene expression. Dawson says the early imprinted birds have totally different gene expression patterns than the control group.
"This makes permanent changes in what a bird is capable of doing," says Dawson. "This is not a genetic change, but an epigenomic change. We
have imprinted the animal to improve the nutritional efficiency of the animal, and we are doing it all naturally, without drugs or hormones."
The nutritional revolution
Alltech then looked at what the food industry wants in chicken and beef and has developed feeding programs that will help deliver those characteristics in the finished product.
"We can significantly improve beef quality with improved tenderness and lower fat," said Dawson. "We can produce beef that is comparable to top-notch prime steak, but with the benefits of less fat, less shrinkage and less cooking loss."
Dawson said this all-natural feeding program reduces the pharmacological requirements that the industry has used in the past.
"Animal nutrition has changed in the last five years," said Dawson. "Nutritional programming is the true nutritional revolution."