Steak lovers worldwide pay more than $300 billion for prime cuts of beef each year, yet many cattle farmers worry about their future incomes, as looming tax penalties for greenhouse gas emissions and inconsistent quality threaten to eat away their profits.
In Ireland, one group thinks data around cattle’s DNA might help them take both those challenges head-on. Getty Images/iStockphoto “Our #1 priority is to make cattle farmers profitable by helping them consistently produce the best tasting and most eco-friendly meat and dairy products on the market,” says Karl O’Connell, integration manager at the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation.
As a nonprofit operating in Ireland since the late 1990s, ICBF manages one of the world’s largest integrated livestock databases, sourced from Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, milking co-ops, veterinarians, and tens of thousands of the country’s cattle breeders and processors. The database now contains more than 100 million animal data records, of which 2 million include animal genotypes.
O’Connell says improving “genetic gain,” a practice in which cows are selectively bred for desired traits, can aid cattle farmers by predicting the type of environment, vet care, feed, and genomic profiles that not only result in more flavorful, tender, and juicy meat, but also produce less methane.
“It’s easy to think that the only way farmers can reduce GHG emissions is by reducing the size of their herds,” O’Connell quips. “But that’s just not true.” By breeding smaller cows, or those with fewer methane-producing microbes in their stomachs, farmers’ herds will literally belch less gas.
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