What’s genomic testing, and what does it have to do with beef?

Beef is huge. It’s a huge part of our diets, sure, but also of our global economy. Around the world, an estimated 57 million tons of beef are produced each year. A recent report issued by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association shows that there are more than 700,000 beef cattle ranches in the U.S. alone.

The growth journey of this industry inevitably comes with a journey towards making safer, tastier, healthier and overall better products. Cutting-edge technology plays a hand in this. With the latest in DNA-related tech, cattle producers gain access to vast amounts of incredibly detailed knowledge about their herds, which in turn lets them make breeding decisions aimed at making the next generation of productive and healthy offspring.

DNA testing, otherwise known as genomic testing, looks at the genome of an individual bull or cow. The genome is the entire body of genetic material of an organism — the entirety of their DNA, basically.

With genomic testing of beef cattle, producers can identify which members of their herds have economically advantageous traits. This includes things like:

  • High fertility
  • Efficient feed conversion
  • Likelihood of producing tender meat
  • Disease resistance
  • Ability to adapt to different climates and environments

One example of how these tests are used: Last year the American Angus Association (AAA) partnered with Neogen to provide genomic testing for producers of the Angus breed of beef cattle. Producers send a blood or tissue sample to a lab, and detailed results are sent back outlining how a bull’s genetic markers compare to others within the breed.

“Genomic testing allows us to basically find animals that are better for traits like marbling earlier that have a bigger tendency to pass down those traits later on in life, so that we can create a better product for the consumer,” Kelli Retallick, genetic services director for the breeding arm of the AAA, told NPR.

And if the current trend of increased consumer demand for beef keeps up, using genomic testing will only become more important as producers race to craft herds that are productive and sustainable.

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