Meat industry needs to change perceptions, argues health expert

Urgent changes need to be made to prevent further damage to the meat sector’s reputation, a professor of public health has told

Speaking to the website before presenting his views on the industry at the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers’ (AIMS) conference on 5 October, Professor Patrick Wall from University College Dublin’s School of Public Health and Population Sciences said meat businesses faced bigger threats than the horsemeat scandal.

“A big threat to future customers is who is telling your story? People are telling a bad story about your sector and if you’re just focused on packing meat, you’re not doing enough to help.”

Vegan agenda

He said a recent campaign poster, showing model and keen vegan Rosanna Davison half-naked, promoting a vegan lifestyle, should worry the meat industry. “Young people are concerned with body image and they see this and think being a vegan will make you look like Rosanna Davison. If this is what the kids are looking to, if people are stripping-off and telling people to be vegan, then you could lose almost half of your target market.”

Furthermore, he explained there was a “complete disconnect” between “urbanites” and the farmer. “Large-scale farming is being seen as factory farming and all of the kids perceive that as how we produce meat.”

Yet the meat industry was not campaigning in a similar way to those targeting it, he stressed. “You are not in the meat business, you’re in the human health business now,” Wall argued.  

Scandals like horsemeat, however, gave people and the media ammunition to fire at the meat industry, he said. “You’re better off to be in the meat business than a banker, provided there’s no bad publicity,” he said. “But meat is being hijacked and it’s all about building trust and confidence; you can’t do enough of this and you are just not doing that.”

Meat and health

On the topic of health and meat, meanwhile, Wall noted that a person’s health was their most important asset. He pointed out that the elderly were susceptible to the muscle-wasting disease sarcopenia. “If you can hold the muscle mass with a phenomenal source of protein, [such as meat] then you will slow this down.”

Nutritionist and author Zoë Harcombe of the Obesity Epidemic sympathised with the issues the meat industry faced, but said to “The meat industry is not doing enough, but then again it may not have enough money to compete with the big brands. There’s just not the margin in the real food, it’s in the fake food and, without the margin, you cannot plough that money back into the marketing. I feel really sorry for the meat industry.”

Meanwhile, Dr Carrie Ruxton from the Meat Advisory Panel said sarcopenia was becoming a more common issue. “We have an ageing population and they need to be healthier.

“People need to remember that sarcopenia is a major problem and one of the things that can help combat that is high-quality protein. Red meat in particular is good at building muscle mass because it contains massive amounts of amino acids.

“Meat is a complete protein and has all of the amino acids that our bodies need and it’s the best source of iron.”


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