Dr Danny Donaghy is professor of dairy systems at Massey University and a specialist in pasture agronomy and physiology.
However, it is not clear if it is understood the benefits consumers get from the meat when it is raised this way.
New research from the Riddet Institute indicates there are differences in meat quality relating to health and digestion, depending on how the animal is raised.
A Massey University research team led by Dr Lovedeep Kaur and Dr Mike Boland compared the digestion differences between pasture-raised New Zealand beef to grain finished beef and a plant-based alternative.
To mimic the human digestive tract, researchers used simulators in the laboratory to observe the differences. They found differences in the fat content of the beef, potentially leading to better health outcomes.
Meat and the alternative plant-based product are made up of various components, including fat and protein. When we digest food, our body breaks it down for us to use for a range of functions, including building muscle and providing an energy source.
The research found that what an animal eats impacts the nutritional properties of its meat. This work confirms animals eating pasture raises the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in meat, particularly long chain omega-3 PUFAs, when compared to meat from grain-finished animals. It is well known these fats (that we typically find in fish) provide health benefits such as improving blood cholesterol.
Digestion studies show that pasture-raised beef provides more of the desirable omega-3 fatty acids when the meat is digested by people, compared to that released from grain-finished beef. The plant-based alternative used in this study contained no long chain omega-3 PUFAs.
Beef is highly digestible, meaning it breaks down efficiently. The plant-based alternative used in the research had lower digestibility during the course of digestion.
This study forms part of a larger programme currently underway examining the nutritional value of New Zealand pasture-raised beef, as compared with grain-finished beef and with a plant-based substitute.
The research is the second part of the study. Part one was undertaken by AgResearch, analysing the overall nutritional profiles of the meat. Researchers from The University of Auckland will then oversee the final two stages, clinical studies investigating both the short-term and long-term well-being and health effects of red meat consumption.
The programme of research is funded by the Meat Industry Association, Beef + Lamb New Zealand Lts, the High Value Nutrition National Science Challenge and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.