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Adrenergic activation and hormone release preslaughter is an inevitable outcome of the systems used to move cattle to slaughter. The aim of this experiment was to investigate the effects of acute preslaughter stress in beef cattle on postmortem muscle metabolism and the meat quality, including consumer-assessed eating quality. Eighty-four cattle were used on three separate days, with ‘mobs’ of four cattle allocated to either a ‘control’ (no electric goads used preslaughter) or a ‘stress’ (six prods given with an electric goad over 5–10 min) treatment at 15 min preslaughter. Cattle undergoing the ‘stress’ treatment had higher plasma lactate at slaughter. The prerigor pH and temperature, ultimate pH and temperature at rigor of the longissimus thoracis muscle were similar between treatments (P>0.05 for all). The water-holding capacity of the longissimus lumborum was reduced by the ‘stress’ treatment, as indicated by higher levels of water lost during suspension (drip loss), storage (purge) for 21 days and cooking (cooking loss at 1 day postslaughter) (P<0.05 for all). ‘Stress’ cattle produced longissimus lumborum muscle with similar sarcomere lengths andWarner–Bratzler shear force at 2, 6 and 21 days , compared to ‘control’ cattle (P<0.05 for all). The longissimus lumborum muscle of cattle undergoing the ‘stress’ treatment was rated less tender, less juicy, with a less acceptable flavour, a lower ‘liking’ and a lower MQ4 score (P<0.05 for all). The ‘bloomed’ surface colour (CIE L*, a*, b*) of the longissimus lumborum muscle at 2, 6 and 21 days postslaughter was similar between the ‘stress’ and ‘control’ treatments (P>0.05 for all). In conclusion, cattle subjected to acute preslaughter stress using electric goads produced meat which the consumer rated as tougher with inferior quality. The inferior quality induced by the acute stress treatment was associated with reduced water-holding capacity but was independent of muscle pH and temperature.


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