With the rising costs of living, it is no wonder there is high demand for increasingly cheaper food. Sadly, this comes at a large price for the animals involved. With the increased demand for more affordable meat products, farmers have been following the trend of cutting operational corners in order to reduce their costs of production and to reap better profits. However, recent discoveries in research in animal husbandry have been making strong cases for farmers to invest in improving the lives, and deaths, of their livestock.

Eli Gjerlaug-Enger, an animal husbandry researcher, said that although there is a lack of research on how livestock stress affects the nutritional value of their meat products, stress has been proven to alter the meat’s “protein composition, vitamin content and minerals.”

The Science of Meat

In healthy, stress-free animals, glycogen (a sugar) exists in high levels in their muscles. Upon slaughter, the muscle glycogen is converted into lactic acid.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), extreme short-term stress in animals results in the muscle glycogen being rapidly depleted. This rapid breakdown leads to pale, mushy meat with poor flavor. This meat is classified as Pale Soft Exudative (PSE), and is marked unusable.

Dark Firm and Dry meat (DFD) can also result: DFD is characterized by darker, drier, and firmer meat than normal. DFD results when muscle glycogen was continually depleted during the animal’s life, indicating long-term stressful living conditions at the farms where they were raised. These meat products are often deemed lower in quality by consumers, and have lower shelf lives.

A Brighter Pasture

In the Spanish province of Andalucía, swine roam free amongst sunlit, grassy knolls of a pig farm called Finca Montefrio. Armando, who owns Finca Montefrio with his wife, Lola, and their kids, explained that their farming philosophy is based on research that revealed that reduced stress in livestock results in meat with a lower pH level, which has consistently gone hand-in-hand in yielding higher quality meat products (such as Spain’s famous jamon Ibérico) than meat from animals that were subject to stressful conditions during transport, handling, and slaughter.

From these, it seems that farmers around the world would benefit from following in the footsteps of Armando and Lola in Andalucía in creating stress-free pastures for their livestock. Not only would they reduce waste from throwing away meat that had turned bad due to biochemical processes triggered by stress, but they would also produce higher quality meat.

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