Seeking proof for health claims for grass-fed red meat


Researchers are looking into whether red meat from grass-fed animals can help to lower cholesterol levels.

AgResearch is one of the recent recipients of funding from the first round of the High Value Nutrition (HVN) Science Challenge, which is focusing on foods with scientifically validated health benefits to increase value for products through proven health claims for food and beverage exports.

Emma Bermingham, AgResearchThe ‘complex beef lipids for metabolic health’ project, one of three to be awarded $1 million each spread over three years, is led by AgResearch’s Dr Emma Bermingham. She says meat from grass-fed animals may contain bioactive complex lipids that have the potential to improve metabolic health.

“We want to provide robust scientific evidence that consuming complex lipids extracted from New Zealand grass-fed red meat will lead to reduced cholesterol levels,” she says.

AgResearch is working with Hawke’s Bay meat exporter Firstlight Foods, which is half way through a seven-year $23.7 million Primary Growth Partnership (PGP) programme co-funded by Government and Brownrigg Agriculture. It is aiming to produce a premium 100 percent grass-fed Wagyu beef on a commercial scale.

“We want to extract and understand the lipids from the fat, to both determine the health claims that can be made and also to develop a new range of products based on these,” explains Bermingham.

The project also involves clinical nutrition capability from the University of Auckland led by Professor David Cameron-Smith.


Firstlight Foods’ branded Wagyu beef at retail in the US.

“Having a scientifically-backed health claim would be a game-changer for us and a fantastic opportunity for New Zealand grass-fed beef,” says Firstlight Foods’ PGP programme manager Matt Crowther. Firstlight’s beef product range not only includes whole meat cuts, it also has a number of burgers and sausages that are very popular with customers, but which currently are not necessarily seen as a healthy choice.

“This gives us an opportunity to explore the science further. Previous research has suggested that the Omega-6/Omega-3 ratios of grass-fed meat are much more in tune with human health requirements, than grain-fed meat,” he says, adding that ‘naturally balanced’ is a term the Firstlight team thinks explains the product very well.

Complex lipids are naturally occurring molecules including fats and phospholipids. Research has already proved that when the latter is extracted from eggs and milk, it has cholesterol-lowering p

roperties and this project is looking to see if the same happens with grass-fed red meat’s lipids.

Firstlight Foods produces high-value marbled grass-fed Wagyu beef in a non-antibiotic regime for premium retail and restaurant markets, explains Crowther. Its export markets are growing and in 2015 740 tonnes of predominantly vacuum-packed chilled and frozen Wagyu beef was sent to its customers. Principally these are on the US west coast, but also in the UK, UAE and in emerging Asian markets.

He says the team was also delighted to learn recently that its brand was the first commercial beef brand to be allowed to be sold on US retail shelves labelled as non-genetically modified.

This article has appeared in Food NZ magazine (February/March 2016) and is reproduced here with permission.


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