According to scientists at CSIRO Livestock Industries (CLI) and the Western
Australian Department of Agriculture and Food, lamb could be on its way to becoming as important a source of Omega-3 fatty acids as fish.

Researchers are investigating whether sheep can be bred to increase the level of essential fatty acids, like Omega-3, in their meat while reducing the amount of saturated fats.

Work carried out by Dr Soressa Kitessa, of CSIRO, and Dr Johan Greeff of the Department of Agriculture suggests that the level of beneficial fatty acids in sheep is hereditary. The meat from some sheep, the Australian scientists found, contains more than twice the Omega-3 than meat found in other sheep.

Of 500 sheep sampled, the 100 with the highest Omega-3 levels would rank among foods classified “a good source of Omega-3” by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand. Currently, this classification only applies to oily fish and foods that have been supplemented with Omega-3.

The research suggests the possibility of a breeding program that could one day lead to high value cuts of lamb marketed for their Omega-3 content.

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“We are confident that the creation of a high value fat-modified lamb is feasible,” Dr Kitessa said.

Dr Greeff went a step further, suggesting that breeding offered the opportunity to change the fatty acid composition of sheep permanently without the need for supplements or additives.

“To date the genetic improvement in sheep has largely focused on
increasing growth rate and muscularity while reducing total carcass fat content,” Dr Greeff said. “This latest research means that we can now look to develop a meat sheep that not only tastes better but will be better for you.”