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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Related Topics

USDA Stakeholder Workshop for Animal Agriculture
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1 - Introduction
2 - Agenda
3 - Stakeholder recommendations
4 - Goal 1: Strengthening Global Competiveness
5 - Goal 2: Improve Human Nutrition
6 - Goal 3: Protect Animal Health
7 - Goal 4: Improve Food Safety
8 - Goal 5: Ensure Environmental Quality
9 - Goal 6: Promote Animal Well-Being
Goal 2: Improve Human Nutrition

Improve Animal Food Products to Help People Live Better


Research has shown numerous health benefits for the inclusion of meat in one’s diet.  Children’s learning and intellectual development have been linked to eating protein found in meat and eggs.  Milk products are a rich source of bioavailable calcium which is critical for bone development in young children, especially for adolescent girls that are more prone to osteoporosis in later life.  Minerals such as zinc and iron found in chicken, beef, and pork have been shown to benefit those with a compromised immune system.  New research suggests that there may be other compounds derived from meat and dairy products, such as conjugated linoleic acid, that may prevent certain chronic diseases. 

This goal has three objectives:

  • Research the contributions of meat, eggs, and dairy products to healthy, balanced diets.
  • Create and identify functional foods from animals.
  • Determine how production and processing practices affect food quality. 

Current research in USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) that directly involves meat or dairy products to achieve each of these objectives are discussed below.

Objective 1: Research the contributions of meat, eggs, and diary products to healthy, balanced diets

  •  ARS Human Nutrition projects meeting this objective
  • Compared the effects of consuming a high meat (about 10 oz. per day of meat as beef, pork, chicken, and fish) to low meat diet (1.5 oz per day) for 10 weeks on iron absorption in men.  This has also been tested in women.  (Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center, Grand Forks, ND (GFHNRC))
  •  Compared the effects of high (20% energy, 10.5 oz per day) and low meat diets (12% energy, 10.5 oz per day) on calcium retention in postmenopausal women.  Meat was present as beef, pork, turkey and chicken.   (GFHNRC)
  •  Research ongoing on the relationship of zinc to cognitive function in school-aged children.  (GFHNRC)
  •  Research ongoing on the relationship between iron status and cognitive function in adults.  (Western Human Nutrition Research Center, Davis, CA (WHNRC))
  •  Conducting human and animal studies on the potential health benefits of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).  (WHNRC)
  •  Analyzed epidemiological data on relationship between protein intake and bone health in the elderly.  (Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, MA (HNRC))
  • Studies ongoing to define a more optimal fat level, especially in terms of fat and cholesterol content which are effective in reducing LDL cholesterol, as well as other favorable heart disease risk factors.  (HNRC)
  • Studies ongoing to assess the effects of calcium intakes on bone development in early childhood (Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX,(CNRC)); examining the calcium and vitamin D requirements for older adults, and identifying differences in age-dependent gene expression which may be responsible for calcium malabsorption. (HNRC)

 CSREES Human Nutrition projects meeting this objective:

  • Conducting studies to identify and test sources of n-3 fatty acids appropriate for supplementation of infant and maternal diets; and to assess the maternal diet for factors influencing docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and n-3/n-6 ratio in human milk. (Auburn University, Auburn, AL)
  • Behavioral intervention study designed to improve calcium intakes and bone health among Asian, Caucasian and white Hispanic adolescents, with the idea of reducing their risk for osteoporosis later in life.  A determination will be made as to whether this intervention can insure equivalent intakes of calcium between digesters and maldigesters; and if psychological assessment tools can predict successful intervention.  (Involves 9 land-grant universities)
  • Conducting studies to show that moderate amounts of beef in a balanced diet, when compared to mixed protein sources, is of sufficient benefit to improve or maintain iron, zinc and copper status without compromising desirable blood lipid concentrations. (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA)
  • Studies being conducted to examine vitamin B6 status of subjects fed beef or lacto-ovo diets, and compares the bioavailability of vitamin B6 from these diets. (Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR and Washington State University, Pullman, WA)

Joint ARS and CSREES projects meeting this objective:

Conducting studies to identify the most salient motivators and barriers influencing the consumption of calcium rich foods among adolescents; assessing knowledge and attitudes towards calcium rich foods among adolescents; assessing calcium intake among adolescents; and determining variation in motivators and barriers, attitudes and knowledge and consumption of calcium rich foods across age, gender and selected ethnic groups. (Involves land-grant universities from 10 states and ARS)

Objective 2: Create and identify functional foods from animals

ARS Human Nutrition projects meeting this objective:

  • Conducting studies to determine if the selenium in beef has similar biological properties to other forms of selenium.  If their studies show that the form of selenium in beef is beneficial than this would enhance value to consumers and profitability to producers. (GFHNRC)

CSREES Human Nutrition projects meeting this objective:

  • Developing dietary strategies to increase ruminal production of CLA isomers with the highest potential in protecting humans against atherosclerosis. 
  • Evaluation of potential dietary strategies that increase production of CLA with the highest health benefits will be validated in beef and dairy cattle.

The human research will provide a better understanding of the antioxidant role of CLA.  The animal research will provide directions on how to increase CLA production by ruminants.  Increasing CLA in beef and milk benefits both consumers as benefitting health, and the beef and dairy industries by adding value to their products. (University of Nevada, Reno, NV, and University of California, Davis, CA, and others)

Joint ARS and CSREES Projects projects meeting this objective:

  • Identifying and characterizing important regulatory steps in fatty acid synthesis and desaturation and their positional distribution on glycerol in milk fat; quantifying modification of milk fat composition by manipulating the diet of the cow; and characterizing the effects of modified milk fats on physical, chemical, manufacturing, and sensory properties of dairy products. (Involves land-grant universities from 10 states and ARS)
  • Determining whether the former liability of producing wheat, meat and vegetables in high-selenium areas can be converted to a marketable asset by using these foods to provide supplemental dietary selenium.  Studies are being conducted to determine factors that regulate selenium accumulation in foods.  Nutritional studies will determine how selenium in foods is utilized by laboratory animals and will estimate the health benefits that come with consumption of that selenium. (ARS, 3 land-grant universities, and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine)

Objective 3: Determine how production and processing practices affect food quality

ARS Quality/Utilization projects meeting this objective:

  • Developing methods for rapid assessment of tenderness and simultaneously developing new technologies to prepare meat that will have consistent, improved, and uniform tenderness throughout the meat cut.  Use of hydrodynamic pressure wave technology, plasma pulse sparking technology, and other newly emerging pressure technologies are being evaluated as to their potential to improve tenderness and contribute important processing attributes to value-added meat products. (Beltsville, MD)
  • Determining the relative contributions of postmortem proteolysis, sarcomere length, and collagen content to variation in eating quality of the major beef muscles.  In one area, they are determining consumer satisfaction with beef cuts from carcasses classified as “tender” using different classification methodologies. (Clay Center, NE)
  • Determine the relative contribution of connective tissue, muscle shortening, and protein degradation during aging in the tenderness of different muscles to enable the beef industry to develop cut specific tenderization strategies, thereby improving tenderness, value, and consumer satisfaction for many cuts currently marketed at reduced prices because of poor eating quality. (Clay Center, NE)
  • Optimizing textural and functional properties of poultry meat, with emphasis on breast muscles, by tailoring the processing sequence to the particular muscle based on fiber type.  (Athens, GA) 
  • Defining the multidimensional relationships of sensory, chemical, and physical properties of muscle foods in order to develop quality indexes to predict consumer-driven acceptance criteria, such as “tenderness” of meat. (Athens, GA) 

CSREES projects meeting this objective:

  • Determine ways to detect bone fragments in poultry meat using combined X-ray and laser imaging. (University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR)
  • Develop a better understanding of how changes in the calpain system relate to meat tenderness. (University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ)
  • Develop a better understanding of the plasmin system regulation in milk and its effect on quality of dairy products. (Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN)
  • Create a new technology for on-line, non-contact monitoring for poultry meat cooking process that will aid quality-control personnel to enhance the quality and safety of ready-to-eat boneless chicken products. (University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR)
  • Establish the role of tissue oxidation in regulating postmortem calpain activity and resultant meat tenderness. (Iowa State University, Ames, IA)
  • Determine the mechanisms of off-odor production in irradiated meat; screen antioxidants that can reduce lipid oxidation and off-odor production in irradiated meat; determine the effect of selected antioxidants on sensory characteristics and consumer acceptance of irradiated turkey breast meat. (Iowa State University, Ames, IA)
  • Improve the stability of minced muscle foods to lipid oxidation and/or to reduce the amount of lipid-soluble phenolic antioxidants that must be added to achieve a desired level of stability. (University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA)
  • Study the cause and control of off-flavor in irradiated meat and consumer willingness to pay premium price for irradiated ground beef. (Iowa State University, Ames, IA)

Joint ARS and CSREES projects meeting this objective:

  • Determine desirable changes in the level and composition of the carcasses of meat animals through gene manipulation and regulation adipogenesis. (Involves land-grant universities from 12 states and ARS)
  • Studying the molecular regulation of skeletal growth and differentiation; determining molecular mechanisms that control gene expression in skeletal muscle; and characterizing mechanisms of cytoskeletal protein assembly and degradation in skeletal muscle.  (Involves land-grant universities from 13 states and ARS)

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Last Modified: 3/25/2002
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