DENVER — An entrepreneur with a "fishy" idea for making beef healthier is turning to crowd-sourcing to pay for research at Colorado State University.
For the past year, Shawn Archibeque, a CSU cattle nutrition expert, has been testing an idea by Aspen entrepreneur Don Van Pelt Smith for feeding cattle the kind of algae eaten by fish. They hope to produce beef high in the good-for-you omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon and other fish.
Now, the two men want to feed the algae to hundreds of cows to see whether the animals can replicate the promising results they've seen after feeding small numbers.
Smith, who also has been working with Oklahoma State University researchers on the project, has built a website and invited the public to help raise $1 million for large-scale testing. He said in a telephone interview Monday that he has raised about $400,000 since the campaign began earlier this month, though some of the money is from a private investor. He could not say how much has been crowd-sourced.
Producers have used the tactic to raise funds for movies and albums, and researchers have used it to track health trends.
Smith said he knew little about the technique before a friend suggested it about a year ago. CSU's Archibeque said in a telephone interview that he had never heard of the fund-raising site Kickstarter until six months ago.
But as government research funds become more scarce because of federal budget cuts, Archibeque was willing to give something new a try.
"It's intriguing. I don't know really what to make of it," the scientist said, noting that he was leaving the fundraising to Smith.
Archibeque was on firmer ground concerning cattle feed, saying the quest for healthier beef has been an interest of his since graduate school. He said researchers have found it tricky.
"We've fed a lot of different things with very marginal success," he said, saying bacteria in cows' stomachs has defeated science by turning unsaturated fats into saturated fats. Smith's algae appears to be different, Archibeque said.
Smith hit on the idea when he was involved in the energy and cattle businesses in Oklahoma. He owned a power plant but also grew algae, hoping to produce biofuels. When he heard about attempts to tinker with cattle diet to produce healthier beef, he naturally thought of algae.
Smith has promised to reward those who contribute to his crowdsourcing campaign with healthy steaks and burger patties.
"A couple of chefs have called," he said.