Beef, Thanks to Vitamin D
By Luis Pons
July 9, 2003
Moderately increasing vitamin D fed to
cattle prior to slaughter is a safe way of providing consumers with tender
beef. That's the finding of studies conducted by scientists at the
Agricultural Research Service's National
Animal Disease Center (NADC) in
Ames, Iowa, and Iowa State University.
The research was led by ARS physiologist Ronald Horst of NADC's
Diseases of Cattle Research Unit, and Donald Beitz, Iowa State professor of
animal science and biochemistry.
It showed that raising cattle's blood calcium 20 to 30 percent by feeding
the animals extra vitamin D3, beginning two to three days before slaughter,
results in an increase in muscle calcium and more tender cuts of meat.
Elevated calcium triggers the tenderizing process by activating postmortem
muscle enzymes that can help degrade structural proteins that toughen meat.
According to Horst, most mammals can tolerate blood calcium increases of up to
30 percent for three to five days without triggering ill effects in livestock
Vitamin D3, the form of the vitamin found in humans and animals--though
toxic if over-applied--helps people and animals build strong, healthy bones and
teeth. A deficiency can cause bones to become thin, brittle, soft or misshapen
and can lead to metabolic diseases such as milk fever in dairy cattle and
osteoporosis in people.
The vitamin D tenderizing method is being tested by private firms within the
United States, with increased interest being shown during the past two years,
according to Horst. ARS and Iowa State share a patent on this technique.
The scientists tested an identical method on pork. Although it led to
improved meat color, no tenderizing effect was observed.
Read more about vitamin D research at NADC in the July issue of
Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.