February 18, 2021

In spring 2007, Ray Riley ’79 ’81 received a call from the New York Times asking for beef jerky samples. Riley manages the Rosenthal Meat Science and Technology Center at Texas A&M University, where students, faculty and staff manufactured and sold a signature recipe jerky alongside other beef products in-house. Riley thought little of the request until months later when a feature appeared in the paper dubbing the center’s jerky the best in the nation.

“The curled husks looked like the bark harvested from a magical meat tree,” the feature read. “There was an outdoorsy smokiness on the nose and a slowly unfolding flavor with a fierce black pepper finish.” With that mouth-watering endorsement, carnivores across America flooded the center’s phone with orders. “We sold more jerky that following month than we did the previous year!” Riley said.

Though state and national press coverage has mostly underscored its jerky (still sold “the old-fashioned way” over the phone) in recent years, the Rosenthal Center’s focus remains on leading meat science education, research and public service. Research from the center has been especially influential, impacting more than 70% of beef, lamb and pork consumers in the United States today, while the program has also produced more Meat Industry Hall of Fame inductees than any other American university. With plans for a new, cutting-edge facility underway, the meat science program looks to retain its status as the strongest in the nation.

It’s What’s for Dinner

Since receiving Rosenthal’s chair, Cross has served in a variety of public and private sector roles, including administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and, from 2012 to 2017, head of the animal science department. With more than 250 published works on meat quality and safety under his belt, Cross is an authority on the kind of market-shifting research that defines Texas A&M’s meat science program.

Cross pointed to a rapid change in industry practice toward meat trimming as evidence of the program’s influence. “Let’s go back to the mid-’80s,” he said. “If you went to a retail store to buy a cut of beef, you might see a half-inch to three-quarters of an inch of external fat. They just didn’t trim the product at all.”


  • History of Texas A&M Meat Science

    Before the Rosenthal Center’s construction, cattle were routinely harvested and processed on campus in the Animal Industries Building. During World War II, students and staff processed 9,500 head of livestock in the building, selling more than four million pounds of meat for roughly $300,000 to aid the war effort.

  • Ray Riley '79 '81

    Ray Riley '79 '81 currently manages the meat science center and oversees the students, faculty and staff who help manufacture in-house beef products.

  • Learning the Trade

    In addition to selling beef products, the Rosenthal Meat Science and Technology Center has been instrumental in providing students with hands-on experience.

  • Dr. Jeff Savell '75

    Dr. Jeff Savell '75, University Distinguished Professor and current holder of the Rosenthal Chair, has been involved with the Texas A&M meat science program for more than 40 years. During those years, he has taught thousands of students through a number of classes, but principally ANSC 307: Meats, which has been taught at Texas A&M University since the 1920s.

A market research initiative conducted by Cross and Dr. Jeff Savell ’75 found strong consumer demand and nutritional benefits for leaner beef products. Within years of the researchers’ so-called “War on Fat,” industry leaders radically adjusted their production processes to eliminate excess fat on beef cuts before they ever reached delis and dinner plates.

Food safety has also maintained prominence in research efforts at Rosenthal. After a disastrous E. coli outbreak claimed the lives of four young Jack in the Box patrons in 1993, Texas A&M faculty formed the International Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) Alliance, which helps beef and poultry industry leaders implement preventative safety standards. Cross served as the alliance’s first CEO. “We are the go-to organization in the country for key regulatory aspects of food safety and food safety technology,” he said.

Cattle Class

Research is only one aspect of the meat science program’s mission; education and outreach are just as integral. Dr. Jeff Savell ’75 first became involved with the program as an undergraduate in 1971 and has been a faculty member for 43 years. During those years, he has taught thousands of students through a number of classes, but principally ANSC 307: Meats, which has been taught at Texas A&M University since the 1920s. He currently holds the Rosenthal Chair and is a University Distinguished Professor. “I want to help train and develop the next generation of young people to be the best versions of themselves in life,” Savell said.

By the Horns

Today, faculty at the Rosenthal Center are still conducting leading-edge food safety research with infectious listeria outbreaks in their crosshairs. And while COVID-19 disrupted many of the center’s hands-on activities, department head Dr. Cliff Lamb noted that it provided an unlikely opportunity to experiment and innovate. “It challenged our faculty to translate their lessons into a distance learning format,” he said, “which could be a potentially vital development for getting quality information to beef cattle producers across the world.”