Research Finds Algae Feed for Cattle Health Benefits

Joanna SchroederAgribusiness, Algae, Beef, Cattle, Feed, Research

Research from Kansas State University has found that grass-fed cattle given a diet that includes algae-based feed or flaxseed rations produces ground beef that contains at least 200 mg per 5 ounce serving of omega-3s up from only 20-30 mg from just eating grass. The hope is that health-conscious consumers may be enticed to eat more beef if it was fortified with these heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The Kansas State research was based on discovering if steaks and hamburgers from cattle fattened on algae pass on the healthy fats and the answer is yes.

Grass fed cattle. Photo Credit: Joanna Schroeder

Grass fed cattle. Photo Credit: Joanna Schroeder

Algae contains the omega-3 type fatty acids known as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which many nutrition experts say people should consume at least 250 mg per day of both because of their protective effects on the heart. A third omega-3 type is alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), which is abundant in flaxseed. Salmon is the king of omega-3 while other types of food have been fortified with these fatty acids including eggs, bacon and chicken.

​Kansas State researcher Jim Drouillard is studying whether algae is an economically feasible food given that commercial sources are scarce. His team has confirmed that cattle fed algae has more of the EPA and DHA fatty acids than cattle fed only flaxseed.

Manhattan, Kansas-based company, GreatO Premium has been researching how to produce omega-3 enhanced beef using flaxseed at an economically viable price for more than 14 years. For the past seven months, they have been test-marketing their fortified ground beef in 50 HEB supermarkets in Texas. At the beginning of the trial HEB was ordering about 100 cases every two weeks, each containing a dozen 1-pound packages of the omega-3 enriched beef, but now they order 400 cases.

Yet will consumers pay more for these health benefits? According to research conducted in these same HEB stores consumers would be willing to pay $1.85 a pound more for enriched steaks and 79 cents a pound more for enhanced group beef, according to Kansas State agricultural economist Sean Fox who was interviewed by the AP. But Hansen believes the actual price increase will only be between 15 and 20 cents.

Hansen told the AP their goal is not to tell people what they should eat, but offer those who are health conscious, other products to help them eat healthier. “Your mother would say, ‘You are what you eat,'” Hansen said. “Well, we say, ‘We are what they ate.'”