By Victoria Marsh, CAHNRS news intern
 
PULLMAN – “You are what you eat” pretty well sums up research being conducted by WSU animal scientist Mark Nelson.
 
Photo of Nelson by Victoria Marsh.
Nelson, an associate professor in the Department of Animal Sciences, is investigating new ways to reduce the saturated fat content in beef by changing what cattle eat. Specifically, he is working on increasing levels of conjugated linoleic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A and E and antioxidants.
 
“What I do is manipulate the chemical composition of what goes into the rumen (first stomach),” said Nelson. “However, I use only feedstuffs that are native to Washington State, so my research is applicable to the cattle industry here. I am interested in what we can do with the average animal in the industry to improve their products.”
 
Improving standard feeds that farmers already use to meet their cattle’s nutritional needs is a new idea in this field of research, according to Nelson. The way he is measuring success – meat quality rather than animal weight – is also new.
 
Nelson carries out his research in collaboration with Jan Busboom, a meat specialist at WSU. Nelson handles the chemistry of the operation, and Busboom works on the analysis of the meat quality.
 
“Our questions are big enough that we need each other to discover the answers,” Nelson said.
 
For example, the team has found that the meat quality we call “taste” is statistically the same for potato-fed and corn-fed beef. These are substantial findings considering the large quantity of culled and discarded potato products in Washington State. Feeding those products to cattle increases the profit to the cattle owners, creates a less expensive product for the consumer and is environmentally friendly, Nelson said.
 
“Although we are not the first scientists to conduct research of this kind,” he said, “every day, the cattle industry is using our results.”