Retailers and meat processors are running trials to investigate gene technology that virtually guarantees the quality of beef.
The technique involves a simple and relatively inexpensive test kit, which farmers can use to find out whether their cattle will produce meat that is tender, tough, lean or fatty.
Retailers believe excellent eating quality could be key to boosting value in their beef fixtures. If the test proves reliable, the big grocers could even use it as the basis of consumer-facing claims about the tenderness of their products.
And for farmers coping with depressed prices, the test might help them command a premium by ensuring their animals will yield a high quality beef.
To use the technology, a farmer simply orders an Igenity test kit from manufacturer Merial, uses it to remove and store a hair from the animal’s tail, and sends it back for testing.
Lab technicians analyse the hair for gene markers relating to eating quality of beef, and rate them on a scale of one to five.
Farmers - particularly those who specialise in breeding stock - can then focus attention on those animals with the highest scores in the desired areas.
Scientists have already identified which gene markers indicate the attributes of the meat a bovine animal will yield.
But Merial believes it is the first time the technology has been so easily and cheaply available for farmers to use. Boss Nigel Otter said: “We tested 10 Aberdeen Angus bulls for tenderness gene markers and found a full range of ratings. The farmer in that trial now knows which bulls to breed from.”