Sunday, August 14, 2022

Case against red meat takes a farcical turn

When eating red meat is compared to tobacco use, you know the debate has plumbed new depths.
Red meat is a natural, healthy product.

I recently wrote an article on factory farming.  About how the critics of the primary sector use the label and the mainstream media then unquestionably promotes it. 

As I mentioned, nothing could be further from the truth.

Factory farming is super intensive where animals are housed.  We don’t do that in New Zealand despite what certain sectors of the media may promote. I was therefore pleased to read about a local study looking into the benefits of eating red meat; it was funded by Meat Industry Association Innovation, Beef+Lamb NZ, the High Value Nutrition National Science Challenge and the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment.

The study was a collaboration between researchers at AgResearch, the University of Auckland, Massey University and the Riddet Institute.  It was headed by Dr Andrea Braakhuis from the University of Auckland. It is highly credible.

Basically it told us what every farmer knows: that is eating red meat is good for you. 

Like you, I’ve heard and read about meat alternatives and how they’re better for your body and the planet. The reality is they aren’t and we now have research to prove it.

I’ve always wondered why you would consume a product that is designed to look and taste like meat but isn’t.  Further, those products are highly processed and many use genetic engineering.  Red meat by comparison is a natural, healthy product. What I hadn’t realised until I read about the research is that little is known about the actual composition of the meat alternatives.

AgResearch senior scientist Dr Scott Knowles was quoted saying that very little is known about the nutritional value and health benefits of the meat alternatives.

Think about that. We’re told ad nauseam about the value of plant-based meat alternatives yet we don’t actually know what they contain or any health benefits they may have.  In addition the research showed that meat delivered more of the essential amino acids than any plant alternative is able to. 

Project head Braakhuis told us that “amino acids from red meat are of greater biological value and better absorbed by the body”.

Massey University also found that red meat was better digested in a laboratory simulator than the plant-based alternative. 

Knowles said that the plant-based alternatives are “marketed as having advantages in environmental footprint and sustainability. Those credentials are still being scrutinised.” 

He said we know for certain that New Zealand farmers are producing a highly nutritious food in one of the most efficient production systems in the world.

Ironically, much of the mainstream media didn’t seem that interested in the analysis. 

Instead I read what I would class as a biased and emotive diatribe telling me it was time to kick our meat and dairy habit.

Newsroom asked the rhetorical question if it was “time for the government to treat agriculture like tobacco”. I’m serious. 

They put that in print claiming that on one hand our sector produces $52 billion in exports but on the other it pollutes waterways and contributes to the destruction of biodiversity and is harmful to humans.

For a start I found the comparison of food production to tobacco use offensive.  Nicotine is a recreational drug that is addictive – you smoke it.  Food is a necessity of life – you eat it to survive.

We read that eating high levels of red meat increases the risk of heart disease, which is NZ’s biggest killer.  Further, that consuming processed meat increases the risks of colorectal cancer. They don’t quantify what high levels are, and there are issues with all foods. 

For example, consuming excessive amounts of salt can be fatal. Then we have the hardy annual of nitrogen in waterways that might, they say, be making rural people sick or leading to babies being born early with low birth weights.

I’d like to see some strong science, complete with figures, to back that up. In one place the entire discussion becomes farcical in my view. 

Agriculture is criticised not only for producing unhealthy food in the form of meat and dairy, but also for putting it on the tables of the “relatively well-off people whose diets contain more protein than what’s considered healthy”.  That’s according to a University of Otago academic.

It seems we can’t win. On one hand we have a highly reputable research project that says consuming red meat is good for you and goes into detail as to why. On the other you have meat and dairy compared to tobacco with a plaintive bleat that our sector needs regulation just like tobacco and furthermore we’re feeding our meat and dairy to the relatively well off and not the needy.

One could add, humbly and respectfully, that the relatively well off give us the $52b that enables us to maintain our standard of living.

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