Meat Quality of Organic/Conventional Pasture-Fed Lambs

Abstract: The 'Organic' product label guarantees a production process that avoids the use of synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and hormones and minimises recourse to pharmaceuticals or veterinary drugs; however, the product's quality remains an issue that needs to be addressed in response to consumer demand. Consequently, this study was conducted to compare the sensory and nutritional qualities of meat and carcasses from pasture-fed lambs reared organically (O) or conventionally (C). Mean lamb growth profile was kept similar between the two treatments to avoid confounding effects with lamb age or weight at slaughter. The experiment was conducted over 3 years (2005 to 2007) with 12 O and 12 C lambs each year. The O and C treatments differed in the level of on-pasture mineral N fertilisation inducing a higher proportion of white clover in the organic pasture than the conventional pasture. Lambs were slaughtered when they attained a fat class of 2 to 3, and carcass and meat quality were evaluated. Lambs were slaughtered at an average weight and age of 35.3 kg and 156 days in the O treatment, respectively, and 35.2 kg and 155 days in the C treatment, respectively. Sensory evaluation indicated that loin chops from the O treatment had a higher level of abnormal fat odour compared with the C treatment. Carcasses from the O treatment had a softer subcutaneous fat one among 3 years (2007) compared to the C treatment. These results are probably due to a higher proportion of white clover in the diet. Organically reared lambs did offer the slight advantage of muscle fatty acid containing a higher level of stearic acid, which may have positive effects in the prevention of cardiovascular disease in humans. This may be the result of a higher rumen bio-hydrogenation of C18: 3n-3 due to differences in the botanical composition between the O and the C pasture. Production system had no effect on the colour characteristics of the meat and subcutaneous fat, except lightness of subcutaneous dorsal fat, which was slightly higher in the O lambs. There were no differences between O and C lambs in terms of colour stability and lipid oxidation of the meat during the 6-day refrigerated storage under gas-permeable film.

Reference: Prache, S., Gatellier, P., Thomas A., Picard B., Bauchart, D. (2011). Comparison of meat and carcass quality in organically reared and conventionally reared pasture-fed lambs. Animal 5(12): 2001-2009. Available online at: