James Wilde, AHDB head of media and PR
THE battle to defend the meat industry from myths and misinformation on health and nutrition has never been fiercer.
Rarely does a day go by when there is not something in the media linking meat to some sort of ailment.
This is often along with a number of other foodstuffs, but it is red meat which gets the headlines consistently, particularly processed meat.
While evidence behind the headlines is often thin at best, the potential impact on beef, lamb and pork producers in the UK is significant.
If the drip-drip effect of these messages starts significantly influencing consumer buying decisions, demand for products will shrink, making it a smaller market to produce for, with lower returns for farmers.
Last week, we were told again about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet in the mainstream media.
Each time this miracle diet, most recently said to be able to prevent 20,000 deaths a year in the UK, is mentioned, it is said to be rich in fish, olive oil, fruit and vegetables, with low levels of red meat.
However, even just a quick Google search reveals data showing the only Mediterranean country with a lower red meat per capita consumption figure than the UK is Greece.
All other countries, where the Mediterranean diet is a staple – namely those on the Med – eat more red meat.
Then there was the BBC’s The Truth About Meat programme, aired last week.
While there have been many less well-balanced programmes on this topic, it still gave the take-out message that reduced meat consumption could help your health.
It also singled out processed meats, suggesting 50g a day could affect your health. The average daily intake in this country of processed meat is 15.5g.
In effect, even if the claimed associations were true and also took into account other lifestyle factors such as weight, smoking or alcohol consumption, we would all need to triple our intake of processed meat before we needed to begin to reduce it.
As a country, we do not need to reduce our red meat intake on health grounds. Even if someone chooses to believe the studies, the average intake of red meat is well within recommended guidelines.
To reduce it could have a detrimental effect on health, particularly for specific population groups. Red meat makes a significant contribution to daily intakes of iron, zinc and vitamin D intakes.
A balanced diet is the key to good health, with a mix of all food groups. However, as the media continues to demonise red meat, it is important we dispel myths wherever we can within the resources we have.
We must try to amplify the noise though before the messaging in mainstream media begins to cut through significantly and endangers farm incomes.