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Epic proportions?

As the meat industry was still reeling from the seismic shocks of ‘Horsegate’, the media gave extensive coverage to a new European report, linking consumption of processed meat to increased risk of heart disease and cancer. Sadly, recent initiatives, launched by the industry to highlight the valuable nutritional contribution of meat through various life-stages, failed to attract such racy headlines.

A new study produced by the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), aggregating information from separate studies undertaken in 10 different European countries, linked higher levels of consumption of processed meat to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer, and was widely picked up by the media.

The conclusion of the study, in stark contrast to many of the headlines linking consumption of processed meat to an early death, was a rather more sober assessment:

"The results of our analysis support a moderate positive association between processed meat consumption and mortality, in particular due to cardiovascular diseases, but also to cancer."

A statement issued by the Meat Advisory Panel commented on the EPIC research as follows:

  • Despite the claims of the EPIC researchers, it is very difficult to disentangle the other lifestyle effects, which may also present a mortality risk. High consumers of processed meat tend to smoke and drink more, take less exercise and consume less fruit and vegetables than their peers.
  • Although the total sample was large, it was drawn from quite specific and, in some cases, very diverse population groups across 10 different European countries, with all their inherent cultural differences.
  • Most UK consumers do not need to change current consumption habits to fall within the recommended government dietary guidelines.

During February, a new report was issued via the MAP, based on research undertaken by the British Nutrition Foundation. The report, entitled 'Red Meat and the Seven Ages of Man', demonstrates how meat can help meet the specific demands for healthy growth, development and general well-being at different life stages:

  • Infants and pre-school children
  • Pre-pubescent children
  • Teenagers
  • Adults of reproductive age
  • Pregnancy and lactation
  • Middle-age and older age
  • Older Age