Anti-meat agenda concerns for industry

A leading figure in the meat industry has warned of a growing anti-meat agenda and fears it may be the next food to be targeted by health bodies after sugary drinks and fatty snacks. 

Dr Carrie Ruxton, nutritionist with the Meat Advisory Panel, said there was an “agenda creeping in” that is pinning sustainability and health issues on meat.

“There’s an anti-meat agenda creeping in that consumers are paying heed to,” she said. “Even on the NHS website, red meat is way down the list of foods to eat when iron-deficient, when it’s one of the iron-richest foods available. It’s affecting the industry and sales of red and processed meat are down.”

Commenting on the recent World Health Organization report linking processed and red meat to cancer, Ruxton added: “It’s difficult to actually pin down meat as a cause of cancer. Plus there are difficulties with observational studies in this area as cancer is a multifactorial disease. The key message is to eat a balanced diet and follow the recommended daily guide-lines for red and processed meat.”

However, she did not believe that processed meats would be taxed in the same way as soft drinks will be in two years’ time, as announced in the recent Budget. “It’s easy to reformulate soft drinks, but processed meat is a different story,” she said. “It would be much more complicated to cut the content of these meats as they also contain protein and iron and it would be difficult to replace them with something else. I imagine that taking on meat would involve consumer activity rather than taxation.”

This comes as a new Oxford Martin School study claimed that adopting diets in line with global dietary guidelines could avoid 5.1 million deaths per year by 2050. The research found that approximately half of the avoided deaths were due to a reduction in red meat consumption. Despite this claim, a recent online poll revealed that 68% of readers did not eat more than the recommended amount of red meat compared to the 32% who said they could probably cut back a little.

Dr Marco Springmann of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food said: “Imbalanced diets, such as diets low in fruits and vegetables, and high in red and processed meat, are responsible for the greatest health burden globally and in most regions. At the same time, the food system is also responsible for more than a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore a major driver of climate change.“We do not expect everybody to become vegan but adopting healthier and more environmentally sustainable diets can be a large step in the right direction.”

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