Farming News - Case in favour of red meat for human health to be presented at OFC 2020

Case in favour of red meat for human health to be presented at OFC 2020

02 Jan 2020
Frontdesk / Livestock

The headlines that red meat is damaging to the health is not the whole story, according to Professor Alice Stanton who will be giving the Science Lecture at the 2020 Oxford Farming Conference (OFC).

Red meat has been linked to a higher incidence of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks, strokes and diabetes mellitus, and also of certain cancers. However not all studies have reported these links.  

“What should be communicated is that red meat is good for health, so long as it is eaten in moderation,” said the Cardiovascular Pharmacologist from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland ahead of her lecture on 8 January 2020.

She explains: “When you carefully examine the studies, where adult populations were subdivided into groups according to how regularly they ate red meat - those who ate moderate sized portions of red meat (120 gram or 4 oz) two to five times weekly, were less likely to die than those that ate large quantities of red meat very regularly, or those that ate meat very rarely if ever.”

“The protective effects of red meat is likely to be due to its excellent balance of protein, and because of its richness in key micronutrients such as vitamins A, B12, D and K2, various minerals with iron, zinc and selenium being particularly important, and lastly the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA.”   

She suggests that health benefits also extend to moderate dairy consumption as well. “The top 15 dietary risk factors for ill-health include diets low in calcium and milk.”

Animal sourced foods appear to be particularly important for children “Studies repeatedly show that for the first 1,000 days of life, from conception until the second birthday, protein, iron, vitamin B12, EPA and DHA intake contribute importantly to normal brain and body development. The consequences of deficiencies in these nutrients in childhood can be severe and irreversible, including stunting, reduced cognitive ability and school performance,” she notes.

Professor Stanton will centre her speech on food and human health. However, with her strong understanding of meat production and farming practices, she will also touch on the importance of reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, as a crucial part of farming’s red meat future.

“I don’t believe that we are going to tackle climate change mitigation by adopting the Lancet Commission’s Planetary Health Diet guidance,” she says.

In the ‘Lancet Report’, the 37-scientists who authored the document stated that vegetarian and vegan diets are two healthy options within their proposed guidance of ‘half a plate of fruits and vegetables, and half of plate of whole grains, plant-sourced proteins (legumes and nuts), unsaturated plant oils and very modest quantities of meat and dairy.

She says that she has two major concerns about the EAT-Lancet proposal.  The suggested dramatic reduction in meat and dairy foods will result in increased nutrient deficiencies. Equally worrying is the fact that such a major dietary transformation worldwide has never been attempted before. It is unlikely to be successful globally, and if we rely on this strategy to address global warming, climate crisis will not be averted.

Finally, Professor Stanton will touch on the impact of low consumer expenditure on food and the impact on farmers’ incomes.

“Today, consumers expect cheap food, which creates a race to the bottom for food producers,” she says. “Farmers are forced into selecting and breeding processes, which deliver food volume, rather than food quality. This affects both plants and animal foods.

“We know that the concentration of certain key nutrients have dropped by up to 50% in some fruits, vegetables and grains. The omega-3 fatty acid (EPA and DHA) content in farmed salmon has more than halved in the last 20 years; so economics are having an impact.”

She goes on to say that farmers need a fair income to invest in quality food production, and in climate mitigation practices such as improved soil health and feeds that reduce ruminant methane emissions.

Professor Stanton says that she believes that eating too much, or too little of a range of foodstuffs isn’t a good thing when it comes to health. Something we should all heed following the excesses of the festive season.

About Professor Alice Stanton

Professor Alice Stanton is a clinician-scientist. She is currently Professor in Cardiovascular Pharmacology at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, and Director of Human Health at Devenish Nutrition. Particular research interests include; high blood pressure, personalized medicine and most recently, the impact of micronutrients on human health and wellbeing.

She has authored in excess of 140 peer-reviewed published papers, and has had grants and fellowships from the Health Research Board (Ireland), Enterprise Ireland, Higher Education Authority (Ireland), Irish Heart Foundation, British Heart Foundation, Engineering Physical Science Research Council (UK), Medical Research Council (UK), Irish Research Council, and the European Commission Seventh Framework Programme.