Veterinary scientists warn that global warming may threaten the juiciness of our dining tables - meats, they caution, are at a risk of becoming soggier, blander, leaner, darker and more prone to spoilage as the Earth heats up.
According to a report in New Scientist, this is all because the quality of our meat depends on whether or not animals experience heat stress during transport to the abattoir.
AdvertisementCattle begin to suffer heat stress at 20 degrees Celsius, pigs at 31 degrees C.
"The one thing we can be sure of is that they'll experience those harmful temperatures more often with climate change," said Neville Gregory of the Royal Veterinary College in Hatfield, UK.
Gregory has spent over a decade studying how meat quality varies with the temperature at which farm animals are kept.
In a paper published in Food Research International this month, he puts his findings in the context of future climate change.
"Unless farmers take protective measures, global warming will make pork soggier and paler," said Gregory.
Normally, after an animal dies, energy reserves - in the form of glycogen - are broken down into lactic acid, causing the carcass pH to fall from 7.0 to 5.5.
But heat-stressed pork acidifies more quickly. When this happens, muscle proteins fall apart, and as a result so does the meat's structure.
"What you're left with is meat that resembles soggy white blotting paper," said Gregory.
Heat-stressed pork tends to be sold at a lower price than premium meat, as because it's not what people expect on their plates.
"But in a warmer future, soggy pork chops could become standard," Gregory said.
As for beef, it will taste blander and look darker, almost mahogany in colour, or umber, and in the worst case, black," according to Gregory.
Heat-stressed cows run out of glycogen before they die, and as a result produce very little lactic acid after death.
As with pork, the pH of beef drops, but because there is less lactic acid in beef than in pork, it stalls at 6.3. At this higher pH, proteins retain water, which prevents oxygen from penetrating the meat.
"This causes the meat's pigment to default to its darker, oxygen-free state," said Gregory.
"The implications of global warming for animal production have not been given much thought," said Peter Hansen, an animal scientist at the University of Florida in Gainesville. "Hopefully, this paper will stimulate some much-needed debate among policy makers," he added.
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