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Researchers Find Hidden ‘GEMS’ to Meat Production

Posted by Scott Elliott, ARS Office of Communications in Research and Science
Jun 13, 2023
Cattle are fitted with global positioning system collars to track their grazing behavior and pasture use. (Image by Peggy Greb)

Scientists from the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) are working shoulder-to-shoulder with food producers to help them feed the world’s growing population. One of their most effective tools is integrating ecological, economic and social principles to help farming systems move toward greater resilience.

According to Mark Boggess, center director for the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC) in Clay Center, Nebraska, the focus must be on improving facets of animal production that deal with genetics, nutrition, health and reproduction as part of a systems-based approach.

“Systems biology focuses on the scope and scale of a specific production system from a holistic perspective,” he said. “These systems are inherently complex and are best characterized by focusing on the relationships and interactions between genetics (G), the local environment (E), the management system (M), and relevant socio-economic effects (S) – or ‘GEMS.’”

In other words, systems biology looks at how all the different factors interact, rather than just studying each part in isolation. For example, Boggess said that optimal animal genetics must match the environment; management systems must be appropriate to maximize the efficiency of the production systems while ensuring adequate productivity; and all meat animal systems must address evolving pressures from society relating to product quality, healthfulness, animal care and wellbeing.

In addition, he said these efforts must also embrace new technologies and perspectives, such as precision management techniques, genome editing, remote sensing and management, ecosystem services, biodiversity considerations, and water and air quality.

Boggess noted that farmers and ranchers can implement many of USMARC’s findings immediately. Examples include genetic tests for beef industry producers, including one for detecting bovine congenital heart failure. USDA ARS discoveries and innovations like these continue to enable U.S. meat producers to improve operational efficiency while ensuring a lean, high-quality and safe product for consumers.

Category/Topic: Research and Science