Thursday, April 25, 2024

Red meat more than just a protein story

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Product has a vital role in global supply of nutrients, conference told.
A healthy diet for one individual is not necessarily sustainably globally and modelling shows that the high costs of a vegan diet that provides all the nutrients that plants lack is not globally sustainable. Photo: Malidate Van
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New Zealand red meat is not just a protein story and has a vital role to play in the global supply of nutrients, a nutritional scientist says.

Exporters should focus on the good that red meat does in diets rather than only talking about it as a protein export, the Riddet Institute’s Professor Warren McNabb said at the Red Meat Sector Conference in Auckland.

The institute created a model called the Delta Model that allows it to run future food scenarios and the consequences for feeding the globe.

The model measures 29 nutrients found in red meat with vitamin B12 being one of the most highly ranked nutrients, while it fares less well in ones like calcium and vitamin E, he said.

It is also a poor source of fibre and magnesium.

McNabb said it annoys him when government ministers talk about the red meat sector as just a protein export.

“It’s not. It exports food. Red meat is mainly about micronutrients, it’s not about protein.”

They include vitamins A, B1, B2, B5, B6 and B12, zinc, selenium, iron phosphorus and copper.

The world would have a major problem supplying people with vitamin B12 if red meat was removed from people’s diets because it is impossible to get this vitamin from plants, he said.

Professor Warren McNabb says red meat provides a large amount of the micronutrients needed to maintain a healthy diet.

“Meat is critical in the global supply of several nutrients.”

The protein in meat is also highly bioavailable, meaning that meat protein is absorbed into the body more easily than plant protein. 

Meeting nutrient requirements is the major challenge in reductions of red meat in diets as both meat and dairy are foods that are high nutrient content providers.

“They form a very low amount of energy consumption but have a very high amount of nutrients, particularly micronutrients.

“Plants are the opposite; they don’t have a lot of micronutrients but they have a lot of energy.”

People need both plants and animal-sourced foods, he said.

A healthy diet for one individual is not necessarily sustainably globally and modelling shows that the high costs of a vegan diet that provides all the nutrients that plants lack is not globally sustainable.

“We can’t produce enough nutrients. We don’t have enough land for the plant material to do that.”

A vegetarian diet could be adopted, but it would require major changes, he said.

The meat industry needs to have sensible, fact-based conversations around meat consumption.

McNabb is also sceptical about the role cultured meat could play in the future and its ability to commercialise the technology at a scale that would make a difference.

Commenting on the cases in Singapore and the United States where the technology is being commercialised he said: “In the restaurants that sell it, one day every two weeks you can go and have it because that’s the amount they produce.”

A calculation from Australian scientist Paul Wood showed that the maximum production this cultured meat company achieved could be used up by McDonald’s in one second.

“As a technology it’s a long way from being commercialised at a size where you can really impact the world.”

The institute is publishing a new model later this year examining milk protein fermentation. It looks at what it would take to produce the equivalent of 10% of the world’s milk protein. 

“To do that, you would have to grow 40-50% more sugarcane than the world currently grows. That’s a massive increase and we don’t have the land to be able to do that.

“You would need all of the energy from two medium-sized European countries and if you want to meet environmental standards it will have to be renewable energy – and the world doesn’t produce enough renewable energy to do it.”

The factories required to grow this product would need a land area greater than Melbourne to produce that amount of milk protein.

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