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by Sarah Millar, Quality Meat Scotland
04 October 2022
Associate Feature: Red meat is essential to the health of our nation

High-quality red meat is rich in iron, B12 and a range of other micronutrients | Credit: Adobe Stock

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Associate Feature: Red meat is essential to the health of our nation

High quality red meat, which is produced in abundance in Scotland, is rich in iron, B12 and a range of other micronutrients which all contribute, as part of a balanced diet, to health and wellbeing.

We must not lose sight of this in the face of a number of reports and media articles that headline with negative connotations of eating red meat, and particularly as we work together to implement the Good Food Nation Act in Scotland.

The recent papers of a group of scientists including prominent nutrition experts Professor Alice Stanton, a Cardiovascular Pharmacologist from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, and respected Belgian food scientist Professor Frédéric Leroy, have brought into question the data produced for the much-referenced (and, significantly, not peer-reviewed) EAT- Lancet report which suggests eating red meat is bad for human health. On the contrary, they argue that red meat has nutrients that can be difficult to find otherwise. 

Professor Stanton regularly refers to the vital benefits of nutrition found in red meat on the growth of the brain and the body, particularly in young children, citing the protective effect of animal-sourced proteins. She also argues that, although she does not criticise vegetarian and vegan diets, people need to work harder to get the same nutrition from them.

At our industry breakfast at the Royal Highland Show in June, attended by Nicola Sturgeon, Professor John Gilliland of Queen’s University, Belfast gave a presentation on The Role of Red Meat & Ruminant Farming on Human Health & Delivering Net Zero. 

Professor Gilliland outlined the mission to retract the unsubstantiated scientific claims that worldwide deaths allegedly related to the consumption of unprocessed red meat had increased from 25,000 in 2017 to 876,000 in 2019, published in the Lancet Journal.

Professor Gilliland explained that the 2019 figure is based on incorrect evidence. The official 2017 Global Burden of Disease, Dietary Risk and Deaths statistics showed that worldwide excessive meat consumption accounted for less than 0.1 per cent of dietary related deaths, making it the least important of 21 causes listed.

In Scotland, on average we are well within the boundaries of dietary guidelines which suggest adults can eat up to 70g red and processed meat per day. According to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, consumption figures for all ages and genders were below the 70g recommendation, with the average for men 66g.

For a healthy, progressive nation, it is essential for the people in Scotland to maintain balanced diets with important nutrients, whether in schools, hospitals, the home or eating out. Natural unprocessed red meat is a valuable source of easily absorbed iron for the whole population, approximately half of teenage girls and a quarter of adult women in Scotland don’t get enough iron in their diet.

Through positive messaging from Scottish Government, the industry and the media, high quality red meat needs to be affordable, accessible and, importantly, acceptable, to consumers as a natural, healthy ‘guilt-free’ means to boost their health.

A population that eats well and thrives on good nutrition will reduce the need for hospital services, and, in turn, reduce the pressure on Scotland’s NHS. 

Sourcing from our own natural resource base here in Scotland can be more cost-effective and more sustainable while also positively contributing to our landscapes and rural economies.

Not only is Scottish red meat a source of healthy protein that grows naturally in our topography, and is ideally suited to our climate, it is also low on food miles making it more sustainable than many plant proteins which are imported from other countries.

We are very pleased to see the decision to create a Food Commission, with primary producers at its heart to build a good food nation across Scotland, encouraging good health, promoting local and environmentally friendly food, improving animal welfare, and supporting the transition of Scotland’s food system to net-zero. 

QMS continues to support producers and businesses across the supply chain in this as well as carrying the important messages through the work of its dedicated Health and Education team.

Delivering cookery classes, workshops and interactive digital learning about eating red meat as part of a healthy, balanced diet, the team ensures that the valuable role of red meat in the nation’s health and environment is communicated throughout the food education network, supporting Scotland’s younger generations in healthy development. 

We look forward to seeing the Food Commission’s collaboration with, farmers, crofters and the wider supply chain in delivering the Good Food Nation Act, and we know that Scotch Beef, Scotch Lamb and Specially Selected Pork will play a core role in achieving its ambitions.

This article is sponsored by Quality Meat Scotland. 

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