Meat industry counter-attacks over health fear

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BRITAIN’S meat and farming industries have urged the Government not to overreact to a new study due out today which is understood to call upon shoppers to limit their red meat consumption for health reasons.

The Department of Health will today publish the long-awaited report in which scientists are widely expected to both link the eating of red and processed meats to bowel cancer and to advise that people limit their consumption of such meats to 70g or two and half ounces per day.

This would mean people were limited to the equivalent of three rashers of bacon a day. An average slice of ham is about 23g, a large sausage is 40g and a medium steak is about 145g.

In total the Government-commissioned report will advise people not to eat more than 500g of red meat a week, roughly the same as a large packet of minced beef or two 8oz steaks.

However farming industries, already struggling from large increases for fuel and feed costs, fear this latest report will cause further damage to their livelihoods and called on Ministers not to rush into making any judgements based on the latest findings.

The National Beef Association said the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition study’s findings were “hesitant and confused” with director Kim Haywood said: “The red meat industry, which embraces farmers, processors and retailers, will despair if it becomes the target of yet another in a long line of alarmist reports – which later undergo deep reconsideration, and substantial modification, after initial conclusions of been found to be too simplistic.

“The National Beef Association is confident that moderate, regular, daily intake of fresh red meat is an important constituent of a healthy diet and plays a mainstream role in maintaining the health of the nation.

“We will also be looking to see if Government, and its selected scientists, are satisfied that the subjects of its study included sufficient fibre in their diet, were physically active and not overweight, and are aware of genetic disposition to bowel cancer too.”

Ms Haywood also pointed out that people in Argentina consume an average of 70kg (154lb) per head of red meat each year com pared with a UK average of 17kg (37.5lb), and yet enjoy far lower rates of bowel cancer.

The issue proves a confusing one for consumers with scientists continuing to publish conflicting studies regarding the link between meat and cancer.

A draft of this latest report published in mid 2009 stated that a reduction in the amount of red and processed meat would lessen a person’s chances of contracting colorectal cancer but said their findings to that stage were “not conclusive”.

Last year the country’s chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson said that nearly 20,000 deaths could be prevented each year by reducing meat consumption. However a separate study published last week by scientists at the British Nutrition Foundation said that links between red meat and cancer remained “inconclusive” and said that most Britons consumption of red meat was at a healthy level.

Mick Sloyan, British Pig Executive sector director, said: “Average intakes of red meat in the UK are already well below the high intakes observed in previous studies, and are lower than in most other European countries. As such the vast majority of people are within the suggested limits.

“Taking into account the findings of the BNF report, we see nothing to suggest that people should be called on to make a significant reduction in their red meat consumption levels. We await the publication of the SACN report with interest, and hope that the health benefits of red meat have been fully considered.”

The study comes the country’s meat farmers endure a challenging period of lower prices, with pig farmers set to demonstrate in London next week.