Quality Notes

Presentations at the recent Langford Food Industry conference covered the two themes of Nutrition and Climate Change and the links between them. They are certainly linked in the minds of people with an anti-meat agenda, who maintain that meat production harms the environment and meat is bad for you.


The presentations showed that the arguments are complex and not weighted as strongly against meat as these people believe. On nutrition, the main issue is the possibility that red meat consumption leads to bowel cancer. There have been several large-scale studies examining the links between diet and cancer and a 'meta analysis' that is an overall summary of all the evidence conducted by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) is the most influential. Their report concluded that there was no increased risk to bowel health from consuming normal amounts of fresh meat, but that there was an increased risk from consuming about 50g per day of 'processed' meat. This is above the level normally eaten in UK.

The report does not define processed meat precisely, because the types were different in the different studies. Nor does the report help us to determine what components of processed meat are responsible for the effects. The consensus at the conference was that high salt is the possible culprit.

The concept of 'risk' is difficult to convey. It has been calculated that the risk of contracting bowel cancer in the population at large is one in 20. Consuming 50g of processed meat per day increases this to one in 18. So the risk is increased, but only slightly. Set against this are the risks to health of not consuming enough iron, B vitamins and zinc if you eliminate meat from your diet. More information on these risks would be useful to counteract the WCRF findings.

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