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Review: Factors affecting sheep carcass and meat quality attributes

Abstract : Sheep meat comes from a wide variety of farming systems utilising outdoor extensive to indoor intensive with animals of various ages at slaughter. In Europe, slaughter may occur from 4 weeks of age in suckling light lambs to adult ages. More than any other animal species used for meat production, there are strong country-specific preferences for sheep meat quality linked to production system characteristics such as dairy or grassland-based systems. This article critically reviews the current state of knowledge on factors affecting sheep carcass and meat quality. Quality has been broken down into six core attributes: commercial, organoleptic, nutritional, technological, safety and image, the latter covering aspects of ethics, culture and environment associated with the way the meat is produced and its origin, which are particularly valued in the many quality labels in Europe. The quality of meat is built but can also deteriorate along the continuum from the conception of the animal to the consumer. Our review pinpoints critical periods, such as the gestation and the preslaughter and slaughter periods, and key factors, such as the animal diet, via its direct effect on the fatty acid profile, the antioxidant and volatile content, and indirect effects mediated via the age of the animal. It also pinpoints methodological difficulties in predicting organoleptic attributes, particularly odour and flavour. Potential antagonisms between different dimensions of quality are highlighted. For example, pasture-feeding has positive effects on the image and nutritional attributes (through its effect on the fatty acid profile of meat lipids), but it increases the risk of offodours and off-flavours for sensitive consumers and the variability in meat quality linked to variability of animal age at slaughter. The orientation towards more agro-ecological, low-input farming systems may therefore present benefits for the image and nutritional properties of the meat, but also risks for the commercial (insufficient carcass fatness, feed deficiencies at key periods of the production cycle, irregularity in supply), organoleptic (stronger flavour and darker colour of the meat) and variability of sheep carcass and meat quality. Furthermore, the genetic selection for lean meat yield has been effective in producing carcasses that yield more meat, but at a penalty to the intramuscular fat content and eating quality of the meat, and making it more difficult to finish lambs on grass. Various tools to assess and predict quality are in development to better consider the various dimensions of quality in consumer information, payment to farmers and genetic selection.
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Contributor : Christine Druesne <>
Submitted on : Monday, August 23, 2021 - 12:55:54 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, August 25, 2021 - 3:28:27 AM

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S Prache, N Schreurs, L Guillier. Review: Factors affecting sheep carcass and meat quality attributes. animal, Published by Elsevier (since 2021) / Cambridge University Press (until 2020), In press, ⟨10.1016/j.animal.2021.100330⟩. ⟨anses-03324183⟩

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