CSIRO study animal stress impacts on quality of meat

  Last Updated: Thursday 9th of December 2010 11:08:00 PM +0800HKT

Livestock are being psychologically tested to produce better quality and more humanely reared meat.

Scientists at the CSIRO are using methodology adapted from the study of human psychology to learn the emotional reaction of livestock to certain stressors, the Courier Mail reports.

The accepted method of testing for stress is blood testing, which shows changes in an animal's physiology or immune systems.

It can highlight an animal's pain or discomfort but no tests until now have used cognitive testing to determine how animals feel emotionally.

"The historical focus has been on the biological costs, which doesn't reflect what happens in regard to the animals' emotions," said primary research scientist Drewe Ferguson, of CSIRO livestock industries division.

"We hope to develop the capacity in the longer term to be able to assess animal welfare and apply it to production systems."

He said meat from animals that had been stressed before slaughter was depleted in muscle glycogen, which resulted in a high pH level.

"It means the meat will be dark, firm and dry in appearance, with a tough texture," Mr Ferguson said.

"It also has a reduced shelf life because of the bacterial growth."

Stress can also affect the animal's health and productivity.

Animals undergoing the psychological testing are subjected to stressful situations, such as being transported and put in rooms with "positive and negative events" at each end.

The animal's willingness and confidence to approach the negative end (for example, the presence of a sheep dog) for a food reward was a measure of their "pessimistic or optimistic state of mind".

"The end product is to be able to minimise stress from farm to slaughter, both for the animal's welfare and the quality of the produce," Mr Ferguson said.

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