Meat Science — Beef!

Have you ever heard that a little knowledge is a a dangerous thing?  You, as a consumer, may have heard that beef is bad for you because……. cattle are ill-treated…….or, confinement of cattle is…….or, grass-fed cattle are …….or, that beef fat is…….or, that beef cattle are destroying the planet!  Many people wind up repeating these statements a few times, and soon become emboldened, repeating them as if they really know!  Yes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing!

teaching meat science

Teaching meat science

The beef industry always seems to be under attack by the popular press, regarding its product in the human diet.  These media attacks predominately affect the uninformed; who generally make decisions based on emotion, rather than fact.

How is it that we, the public in general, are so often led astray from the facts?  I would offer two primary reasons.  One, many uninformed individuals themselves, have ascended into decision making governmental positions, because of political skills, not knowledge base.  Two, the media! It’s a known fact that If you want to create a listening or viewing audience, hit emotional “hot buttons;” hit them hard and often.  Facts are rarely required.  Our own (America’s) educational achievements, based on world-wide standards, rank beyond 30th, comparatively speaking.  Our growing population is much less educated than previous generations.  Our current population is simply vulnerable to misinformation.  Emotional decision making has become the norm.  That is why this website is in place, and our effort and energies are expended on your behalf—to clarify, to educate, to share the facts of the beef cattle industry.

Let us now begin creating for you, the beginning of a fact-based foundation of knowledge concerning beef.  But first, let us determine what the term “natural” really means?  Because it is thrown about in a variety of conversations.  The dictionary would say:  “having undergone little or no processing and contains no chemical additives; in conformity with the ordinary course of nature; not unusual or exceptional; true to or closely imitating nature, thus a natural representation.”

Elastase, an enzyme from the pancreas, enables the human body to break down “elastin” which is exclusively associated with the metabolic breakdown of meat.  Our evolutionary ancestors were, without question, carnivores.  We, mankind, have evolved this highly specific enzyme, elastase, to deal with the elastin in our food—meat!  We obviously are the decedents of meat-eaters.  Thus, the learned recognize that meat is a “natural” component of our diet.

beef carcass

The science involved in breaking down the carcass

Let me share a couple of abstracts from highly educated, and notable individuals who are offering their insight into misunderstandings regarding beef in particular.

  1. Canadian researchers (Binnie, Barlow, Johnson and Harrison) published the following:

Recent evidence suggests dietary advice to limit red meat is unnecessarily restrictive and may have unintended health consequences.  As nutrient rich, high quality protein foods, red meats can play an important role in helping people meet their essential nutrient needs.  Yet, dietary advice to limit red meat remains standard in many developed countries, even though red meat intakes appear to be within current guidelines.  Meanwhile, energy intakes from processed foods have increased dramatically at the expense of nutrient rich foods, such as red meat.  Research suggests that these food trends are associated with the growing burden of obesity and associated diseases in recent decades.  It is time for dietary advice that emphasizes the value of unprocessed red meat as a part of a healthy balanced diet.


  • Dietary advice to limit red meat is unnecessarily restrictive, and may have unintended consequences.
  • Overzealous focus on limiting red meat may have distracted from effective nutrition strategies to address chronic disease.
  • With increasing intakes of highly processed foods, it is important to reconsider nutrition priorities.
  1. From Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, researchers McAfee, McSarley, Cuskelly, Moss, Wallace, Bonham and Fearon, published the following.

Red meat is a long established source of protein and essential nutrients including iron, zinc, and vitamin B12;  yet reports that its consumption may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), and colon cancer have led to a negative perception of the role of red meat in the diet.  Despite many studies reporting an association between red meat and the risk of CVD and colon cancer, several methodological limitations and inconsistencies were identified which may impact on the validity of their findings.  Over all, there is NO STRONG EVIDENCE to support the conclusion from the World Cancer Research Fund, who reported that red meat has a convincing role to play in colon cancer.  A substantial amount of evidence supports the role of lean red meat as a POSITIVE MODERATOR of lipid profiles with recent studies identifying it as a dietary source of anti-inflammatory long chain (LC) n-3 PUFA’s and conjugated linoleum acid (CLA).   In conclusion, moderate consumption of lean red meat as a part of a balanced diet is unlikely to increase risk for  CVD or colon cancer, but may positively influence nutrient intakes and fatty-acid profiles, thereby IMPACTING POSITIVELY ON LONG-TERM HEALTH! 

Fresh meat, beef in this instance, is perfectly healthy, nutritious and satisfying to consume, unquestionably.  Consumers, the only real issue regarding fresh beef is consistency, including tenderness.  Inconsistencies exist because of the vast variety of cattle required to excel in specific environments, and be successful in that particular environment—be it the arid range lands of the west, or the higher elevations of the mountain states.  Yet, this issue is being scrutinized heavily by a massive portion of our industry.  We are very likely to now be in the initial effort, to effectively improve the inconsistencies associated with the subject of tenderness.  There are a lot of changes coming our way involving pre-harvest activities, as well as the post-harvest handling of beef, as we attempt to bring to you that product that yields a truly satisfying eating experience.

Swinging beef, graded, and ready for fabrication

Swinging beef, graded, and ready for fabrication

I will now conclude the topic of fresh beef, reluctantly, and go into the subject of “processed beef.”  Yes, this product is from the same animals that produce “fresh beef;” but the term “processed” has been added.  The truth of the matter, except in one category, is that all those small, left over pieces of beef, and body parts in some instances, are mixed together to form a merchandisable product.  We can’t cover the entire subject, but we shall take a quick look at deli-meats in particular.

The term food-chemistry has now been taken to the PhD level, regarding deli-meats in particular.  Let us now look at three general categories of processed beef.

  1. Fresh Cooked Meat:  the best of all deli-meats are full pieces, though often small, that are freshly cooked and flavored to yield a product one might associate with baked turkey, or roast beef.  The best of these would come from Applegate Farms, Koch’s All Natural Turkey, Boar’s Head Natural, Dietz&Watson All Natural, and Hormel’s 100% Natural.
  2.  Moderately Processed Meat:  pieces of meat that are removed from the bone, and ground together.  They are then “emulsified” into a soft cake-like batter, where flavors, additives, and binders are added so that they can be formed into a mold.  They most commonly are placed in cylindrical packaging to maintain structural integrity.  Then they are cooked or smoked, appropriately.  They’ve taken product of little or no value, and made it into deli-meats that are often sold for $10 a pound.
  3. Very Processed Meat:  these products go through a similar process but are usually a mixture of meats: beef, veal, turkey and chicken—all ground together.  They are blended into a paste, vacuumed to remove the air, protected from bacterial growth, emulsified, as well as the addition of  preservatives and sugar.  Then the meat is either moved into a dripping room for several days (salami); or cooked and/or smoked so it can be eaten hot or cold (kelbasa and mortadella); or processed so it can be eaten only after being cooked (hot dogs and liver sausage).

The USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service has created a glossary list of meat ingredients that are often found in you typical processed meat, choices.  There are some 25 plus names to be found on the label of these aforementioned processed products.

The list would include BHT, BHA & Tocopherol (antioxidants that retard rancidity), citric acid (protects fresh color), corn syrup (a flavoring and sweetening agent), gelatin (thickening agent made from collagen—skin, tendons, ligaments or bones of livestock), modified food starch (a source of starch used, but not required on the label), MSG (flavor enhancer), and sodium nitrate (color fixer and prevents growth of Clostridium botulinum).

fabrication of the carcass

Fabrication of the carcass

The total number of these ingredients added to some products is staggering.  One particular entree from a well known food purveyor, had 70 ingredients (including the ingredients in the sauce).  I haven’t seen that particular product around lately.

This is exactly why I am an ardent supporter of fresh beef, and like you may be, consume fast food sparingly. Processed foods have the reputation of having created value from where there was none.  Nothing is wrong with that thought process, except for all the chemicals involved that you and I consume when we eat them.  This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t eat any deli-meats.  What it does mean is that you should be mindful of the amount and frequency of your deli-meat intake that contains nitrates in particular, which, in the body, turn into nitrites, and ultimately, nitrosamines, which are among the cancer causing chemicals.

meat science in action with students

Meat science in action with students

Fresh beef is perfectly safe, perfectly wholesome, perfectly nutritious, and perfectly pleasing to the palate.  Be not led astray by the uninformed activists who are ultimately against any form of animal agriculture.  Knowledge is enlightenment.  Arm yourself with facts regarding agriculture in general and the beef cattle industry in particular.  Albert Einstein once said:  “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”  Sherry and I suggest you never stop trying to elicit the facts that affect yourself and your body.

Thank you for taking the time to expand your learning curve toward enlightenment!