Interim Head Named for Colorado State’s Animal Science Department

A specialist in meat quality and safety has been appointed interim head of the animal science department in Colorado State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Darryl Tatum, a Colorado State faculty member since 1980, has focused on genetic and management issues in producing improved beef during the past decade.

"Dr. Tatum has won numerous awards in recognition of his research, teaching and outreach efforts," said Kirvin Knox, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences. "He enjoys both a national and international reputation based on his research on factors that affect meat quality. Dr. Tatum is a dedicated and exceptionally effective teacher and mentor to graduate and undergraduate students."

In recent years, Tatum’s research has been as a member of a team of meat science specialists, particularly Gary Smith, University Distinguished Professor and holder of the Monfort Endowed Chair, and Keith Belk, assistant professor of animal science. Their work, according to Tatum, has been aimed at putting perceptible quality back into what once was America’s favorite meat.

"The product has changed over time, and some of those changes can be detrimental to quality," Tatum said. "I think one of the reasons the industry has been so supportive of our efforts is its loss of market share in the 1980s and 1990s. For example, beef can’t compete with chicken in price, so if you’re going to convince people to pay for beef, there has to be a reason to buy it–and quality is the driving factor."

The overall detriment is speed, Tatum said, and "some of the management practices we use to increase getting the product to market are very detrimental to the quality of the final product."

Health concerns play less of a role in beef’s decline, Tatum said.

"Beef provides nutrients you can’t get from other sources," he said. "If you can find red meat that isn’t really high in fat, it has positive dietary benefits."

Research by Tatum and his colleagues focuses on breeding, treatment, feeding practices and related matters.

"A lot of the things we’ve been trying to investigate are management practices–things like feeding stress, which can affect meat quality, or the fact that an injection can cause a lesion," he said.

Tatum has another hypothesis for the declining popularity of beef–the lack of time to cook. Preparing beef takes some skills and doesn’t come off well in a prepackaged, frozen format; his intent is to help beef producers show the American public what they’re missing. He thinks, too, that consumers eventually may be willing to pay more for high-quality beef (not necessarily organically grown, although some ranchers are pursuing that approach) as they do for organically grown produce. Both quality and flavor are there.

"For that to work, however, organic growers are going to have to produce a discernibly different meat product that tastes different and is worth the price."

Tatum earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, all in animal science, from Texas A&M University in 1974, 1976 and 1978, respectively. He was an instructor at Texas A&M and later assistant professor at Texas Tech University before joining Colorado State.

A member of the American Society of Animal Sciences, American Meat Science Association, Intercollegiate Meat Coaches Association (of which he was president in 1989) and the National Livestock Grading and Marketing Association (president, 1982), Tatum has won a variety of awards, including the western section, American Society of Animal Science’s Distinguished Teacher Award; the society’s Meats Research Award; and the Colorado Cattle Feeders Association’s "Top Choice" award, all in 1998.

Tatum has published more than 75 papers in refereed scholarly journals and dozens of abstracts and research reports. The animal science department has about 30 faculty and 50 graduate students.

Tatum succeeds David Ames, professor of animal science, who will return to full-time teaching and research.