Government scientists said the suspicion of a link between red meat and bowel cancer was unproven but to be on the safe side, people should keep to an average of 70 grammes, or two-and-half ounces, a day – the equivalent of a large packet of minced beef or two 8oz steaks in a week.
Mainstream farming organisations protested at the confused message of the report, and this week, the Soil Association weighed in with a statement headlined ‘Not All Meat Is Equal’.
Richard Young, Soil Association policy adviser, said: “Any recommendation to limit the consumption of red meat should make it clear that most of the evidence linking it to bowel cancer comes from studies in the US, and that the situation in the UK may be very different.
“Red meat from animals reared on grass is known to contain much higher levels of beneficial fatty acids and other compounds, which have been shown to have anti-cancer properties.
“More than half the agricultural land in the UK is only suitable for grazing and, as a result, virtually all lamb, and more than 70 per cent of beef, comes from free-range animals eating a diet predominantly based on grass.
“In contrast, most cattle in the US are kept in feedlots on diets high in grain, low in fibre and totally deficient in grass.
“Grass-fed cattle typically have much higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed cattle.”
Mr Young said there were strong indications that the crucial factor in diet-related cancer, if it existed, was a high level of omega-6 fats in comparison with omega-3s and that grass-fed beef had a healthy ratio of the two kinds.
He added: “Organically-reared animals must have access to pasture at all times when weather is suitable and are not permitted to have a high proportion of grain-to-forage in their diet.”