DNA testing plan can help to boost national beef herd

DNA profiling could help Scotland’s beef industry lead the way on traceability while offering the tools to improve the productivity of the national herd.

Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) yesterday launched the findings of a proof of concept study into the use of the technology at farm level.

The aim is to reduce fraud and improve calving intervals, reduce finishing times and calf mortality, as well as an improve feed conversion and calving percentages.

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The Scotch Beef PGI Traceability and Performance project, which was funded with £94,000 through the Scottish government's Knowledge Transfer and Innovation Fund, tested the usability of current DNA collection techniques to reliably identify maternal parentage.

Bruce McConachie, the organisation’s head of industry development said this had been successfully confirmed during the project’s test on 541 cattle on a number of commercial enterprises.

He said that with trials showing a 91% degree of accuracy, the measures could give the industry world-leading traceability and help stamp out fraud at all levels in the red meat industry.

The approach also offered the opportunity to identify better performing animals and those with better diseases resistance – all traits which he said would become increasingly important in attempts to address climate change issues.

However, due to the size of the sample and the different management recording systems used on farms, this result had been less easy to confirm.

“However if we were able to gather more information through BCMS, ScotEID and from abattoirs, it is likely that we would be able to give feedback which could help producers lift the genetic merit and performance of their animals substantially.”

QMS chief executive, Alan Clarke added that the aim of the project was to provide these benefits at little additional cost to the industry and estimated that at individual animal level the cost was likely to be the difference between a tissue collecting ear tag and a normal one – around 20—30p.

“As an organisation, we continue to look at opportunities to add value for our levy payers with research projects, like this, providing farming businesses with the necessary knowledge to improve their productivity and profitability,” said Clarke.

He said the introduction of a DNA information programme could underpin the integrity of the Scotch Beef PGI brand through product traceability.

The project was managed by Irish consultant, Dr Jonathan Birnie, the genetic testing was analysed by Identigen and the results analysed by the Moredun Research Institute.

The results were analysed alongside animal performance data to give an overview of each of the beef herds in question.

Clarke hopes the project could be extended to get buy-in fom the whole of the red meat supply chain - and to work with other organisations involved in the field, including SRUC which is currently working with genomic data collected through the Scottish government’s Beef Efficiency Scheme.

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