Reduction in red meat consumption to ‘increase death and disease’

Concerns have been raised that large-scale reductions in red meat consumption by the world’s population will “increase the numbers of deaths and disease”.

That’s according to Prof. Alice Stanton, a physician and member of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland with 30 years’ experience, who also works with Devenish Nutrition.

She was referring to the reference diet that was produced by the EAT-Lancet Commission earlier this year, which recommended drastic cuts in red meat consumption the world over.

Speaking to AgriLand, Prof. Stanton said that ‘nutritional risk factors’ had taken over from smoking as “the greatest cause of death worldwide in the last 10 years”.

However, excessive red meat is only causing less than 0.5% of those deaths, so it’s a small player in causation of human ill health and deaths, which isn’t what has been in the headlines recently.

She commented that the EAT-Lancet diet – which was proposed by The Lancet medical journal and the EAT Foundation – is “proposing a lot of good stuff” in terms of increasing consumption of fruit, vegetables and legumes, as well as cutting salt consumption. She argues that these suggestions appear to be “factually correct” in terms of enhancing human health.

However, the proposed 90% global reduction in red meat consumption will have a more negative impact on human health, Prof. Stanton suggested – if such a reduction is possible at all.

She highlighted that this proposed reduction came about less for human health reasons, and more for environmental reasons, in terms of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from beef and lamb production.

“My concern, and the concern of many people who are involved in health promotion, is that this is a very transformational dietary change, which needs to occur worldwide for us to avert climate change,” Prof. Stanton argued.

Our concerns are that the proposed diet will result in considerable deficiencies in iron, zinc, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids…which will increase the number of deaths and disease burden by a factor of probably 50, by comparison to what will be protected by the reduction in red meat.

“There will be disadvantages to human health with such a change,” she stressed.

She also highlighted another “main concern”: That such a massive change is unlikely to be achievable in the first place.

“Are we going to achieve such a dietary change? Probably not. And if we’re relying on that to avert a climate crisis…we’re going to have [a climate crisis],” Prof. Stanton warned.

In terms of climate mitigation, she suggested that the focus for agriculture and agri-food should be elsewhere.

Given that the logic for dramatic reduction and changes in animal or livestock production is the concern over GHG emissions, and particularly methane, there needs to be more focus and greater attention paid to the possibilities of carbon neutral farming.

“I’m hearing very credible data both for altering the landscape; more trees within farming; better attention to soil fertility; and supplements which antagonise methane production. All of those are possible towards carbon neutral farming,” Prof. Stanton suggested.

However, she reiterated: “The extreme reduction in red meat consumption is unlikely to produce the solution.”

Prof. Stanton will speak as part of a panel discussion at the 2019 Nuffield Ireland Conference tomorrow, Friday, November 15, which will be held at the Castleknock Hotel, Castleknock, Dublin.