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New horizons for meat eaters

During August, BBC2 Horizon broadcasted two hour-long documentaries under the banner of ‘Should I eat meat?’. Both documentaries were fronted by Dr Michael Mosley and explored a variety of issues regarding meat in the diet and the impact of meat production on the environment. There were further reports suggesting that increasing consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates had a more significant role than saturated fats in contributing to the rise in levels of obesity in the general population.

The meat industry and meat eaters were once again in the spotlight during two hour-long documentaries in the latest BBC2 Horizon series. Both programmes were fronted by the science presenter, Dr Michael Mosley, who recently popularised ‘The 5:2 fast diet’, which advocated restricted calorie intake for two non-consecutive days and ‘anything goes’ for the remainder of the week.

From a meat industry perspective, the first Horizon programme 'The big health dilemma' was probably the more controversial of the two documentaries. It set out to explore the conflicting science on the benefits of eating meat. A number of interviewees emphasised the nutritional benefits of meat as regards protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B. It also presented the background research to the ‘rehabilitation' of saturated fats and their role in the diet but also raised concerns about the L-carnitine present in red meat.

It presented evidence from work by Harvard University and the European EPIC study, which differed in their views on the cardiovascular and cancer risks associated with red meat consumption but the programme came down strongly on the benefits of lower consumption of processed meat.

The programme also featured the effects of Dr Mosley adopting a high meat diet (of 130g per day) - which resulted in higher levels of cholesterol, higher blood pressure and fat levels in his body.

Much of the media coverage focused on the inconclusive arguments behind the case for lowering red meat consumption.

Dr Carrie Ruxton, representing the Meat Advisory Panel said after the programme:

“People should continue to eat red meat if they wish, choosing healthier lean cuts. It is a source of high quality protein and essential nutrients that help to improve overall diet quality . I am pleased to see that Dr Michael Mosley concluded that he will continue to enjoy lean red meat.”

The second Horizon programme, 'How to feed the planet' focused on the environmental impact of meat consumption. Again it included evidence from both sides of the argument and the view that, generally speaking, intensive livestock production is less environmentally damaging than most of the more extensive alternative production systems. It also highlighted that production of beef and lamb has a higher environmental impact than that of pork and poultry. However the main conclusion was that current levels of meat consumption are unsustainable, especially in view of the expected increases in meat and dairy consumption in the developing world.

Apparently mussels are the least environmentally damaging protein source and we’ll all be eating a lot more insects and laboratory produced meat in the future.

In recent weeks there has also been much discussion about three books which seem to overturn a lot of the official dietary advice of the last 20 years or so, advocating reduced consumption of saturated fats and, therefore, that of meat and dairy products. This view is put forward in 'The Big Fat Surprise' by US author, Nina Teicholz.

'Fat Chance' by Robin Lustig equates over-consumption of sugar to “cocaine and tobacco” and claims it is a primary cause of rising levels of obesity and much diet related disease.

And, according to The Grocer, ‘national treasure’ Mary Berry and her hugely popular TV show ‘The Great British Bake Off’ have been blamed for causing the recent sugar crisis in official circles.

'The Fat Lie' by Christopher Snowdon maintains that decline in physical activity is the main contributor to rising levels of obesity rather than an increase in consumption of sugar, fat and calories.

However, lest the meat industry starts feeling too smug, it should be reported that the Advertising Standards Authority made a decision to ban a recent Morrisons TV advertisement promoting their new range of burgers, on the grounds that it disparaged and discouraged healthy eating among children…after just 11 consumer complaints.

The advertisement showed a young girl removing the lettuce and tomato from a burger bun, having been given it by her mother at home after getting a good school report.

The ASA rejected Morrisons’ response that the tone was ‘humorous’ and it was quite possible that the girl would return to eating the lettuce and tomato after she’d finished eating the burger.

Life really is no fun any more.