Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Red meat’s crucial role in a healthy balanced diet

It can’t have escaped anyone’s attention that red and processed meat hasn’t been far from the headlines this week.

Publication of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) report linking red and processed meat with cancer prompted the inevitable cascade of media interest. It’s not the first time our industry has been in the spotlight in this way and is unlikey to be the last.

However, amid some of the alarmist headlines, it’s important to retain some perspective and look at what was, and wasn’t said. The IARC hasn’t said eating red and processed meat as part of a balanced diet causes cancer: no single food causes cancer. Nor is it saying it’s as dangerous as smoking.

The Government looked at the same evidence in 2010 and recommended people eat no more than 70g of red and processed meat a day. This week it has confirmed that this advice is not changing. IARC’s findings suggest that eating 50g of processed meat brings a small increase in risk. However, average consumption in the UK is just 17g per day so the average person would need to eat three times their current levels to increase their risk.

Red and processed meat plays an important role in a balanced diet, providing protein, iron, zinc and B vitamins. There’s no evidence that removing meat from your diet protects against cancer. The argument for the positive role red meat has to play in a balanced diet is compelling. But don’t just take our word for it. A number of articles, interviews and blogs have this week underlined the value of red meat in a healthy, balanced diet.

blog by ZoĆ« Harcombe, for example, highlighted that by singling out red and processed meat, a person’s entire lifestyle and diet is overlooked. This key point was also reiterated by the Meat Advisory Panel (MAP) dietician Dr Carrie Ruxton, during an interview on the BBC Radio 2 Jeremy Vine Programme. You can listen to Dr Ruxton from 1 hour, 15 minutes and 30 seconds into the programme putting the case for red meat’s dietary benefits. Echoing the importance of overall lifestyle, she pointed out that we are not high consumers of red meat in the UK and drew agreement from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) representative also interviewed that, as long as consumption is kept within the guidelines, there’s no need to cut out red meat at all.

Some balance was also provided by an
article in The Guardian on the 116 things considered to give you cancer. Interestingly, the article highlighted that red meat isn’t on that list. And as Dr Hilary Jones stressed in his report on Good Morning Britain, you can’t look at one food in isolation and say that it causes cancer. He also alluded to the equivalent risks of developing bowel cancer among vegetarians and meat eaters. Dr Jones also stressed the nutritional benefits of red meat in the diet providing a variety of nutrients, all of which are required for general health and wellbeing.

The crux of the matter again appears to be that the meat industry remains in the crosshairs for criticism as a result of such observational studies – an easy target to grab headlines, as has again proven to be the case. The reality, however, is that many more factors are overlooked and are missing from the equation. As Dr Ruxton made clear, most of us are eating an acceptable amount of red meat. We are not, however, eating the right amount of fruit and fibre. Nor are many of us taking the right amount of exercise. Surely these factors are worthy of greater consideration before meat is cast as the villain of the piece again.

With regards to red meat and health, AHDB Beef & Lamb and AHDB Pork have helped create significant resources to support the industry. You can access these at and

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Feeding cattle over winter – how webinars are spreading expert advice to farmers

Being in the business of transferring knowledge, it’s important that we at AHDB Beef & Lamb have a good understanding of how best to reach our main audience, levy payers.

We have a number of tried and tested methods, but are always looking for new ways to share the latest research findings and expert advice. Recently we launched a number of webinars, and despite a few technical glitches at the start, we were able to host vet and nutritionist Debby Brown as she talked about feeding cattle over winter, and so far the feedback has been positive.

Debby Brown

But before we get into the technical aspects of the subject matter, you may be thinking ‘what is a webinar?’ Well, they create an opportunity for multiple people to listen to and watch a presentation by an expert, no matter where they are based. It’s like a conference but people don’t have to travel to attend, you can watch from the comfort of your home or farm office (as long as you have an internet connection).

There is minimal input required from the audience. All you need to do is click a few links, register and then sit back and enjoy the webinar! This is useful, as we know it’s not always easy to leave the farm to attend a face-to-face meeting or conference.

Debby hosted two webinars, the first was called Feeding the Suckler Cow This Winter and the second Growing and Finishing Cattle This Winter. The former saw Debbie talk about the nutrient requirements of both autumn and spring calving cows and give advice about planning rations for them whilst keeping an eye on costs. She focused on providing practical advice on choosing feeds that combine to make a balanced ration and how to monitor if the ration is working for the cow. 

One of Debby's slides showing the way protein is processed

There was an emphasis on the importance of body condition score and the need to measure and monitor the changes in condition, calf growth, intakes and performance, and Debby highlighted the beef Better Returns Programme resources that can help with these tasks. These include the blend and ration calculators and feeding manuals.

The latter webinar, about growing and finishing cattle, saw Debby share expertise on the nutritional needs of the animals. She stressed that the overall target is to optimise performance in health so that the animals give a return on what you want to get out of them.

The webinars have proved useful tools in sharing information to an audience that is spread far and wide and are another example of the way digital technology is supporting the industry. For anyone who was unable to take part, both of the winter feeding webinars are hosted on our YouTube channel, and can be played back at any time.

More webinars will no-doubt be planned so keep your eyes peeled!

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Food and Farming Minister puts prospects for beef and lamb exports in focus at Anuga

This week we’ve been at Anuga in Cologne where Food and Farming Minister George Eustice put the positive future prospects for beef and lamb exports firmly in the spotlight.

Anuga saw the launch of our new AHDB Exports brand, with a number of exporters again joining us to network with existing and potential business contacts. They also had the chance to sit down with the Minister and AHDB chairman Peter Kendall to discuss pressing issues, challenges and opportunities facing the sector.

The Minister’s visit, where he also met with industry journalists, proved a great success and he was keen to stress the important role exports play now and will continue to play in the future. He outlined the huge opportunities for, not only premium cuts of beef and lamb, but also the valuable role the fifth quarter has to play in adding value to the carcase and maximising its full potential. The Minister also touched on the important role AHDB has to play, working with government to help secure access to new markets for our products.
AHDB Chairman Peter Kendall with Food and Farming Minister George Eustice
Hosting the Minister was a particular highlight of the five-day trade show, which provides the ideal platform for AHDB to showcase home-produced beef, lamb and this year, pork, to the thousands of visitors who flocked to our stand.

Visitors were able to sample beef, lamb and pork dishes, as well as meet with senior members of the AHDB Beef and Lamb and AHDB Pork team to find out more about production systems. This was illustrated perfectly when the team, joined by AHDB chairman Peter Kendall, met with a delegation from China on stand to sample some of the produce on offer and discuss potential future business opportunities presented.

The AHDB Export stand boasted 250sq m of space, highlighting new developments in the field of premium meats, as well as hosting hubs for exporters to conduct business meetings. During the course of the event, thousands of dishes were served to visitors, helping spread the message about Quality Standard Mark (QSM) beef and lamb.

Visitors enjoying the AHDB Exports stand
But it wasn’t all business. Anuga coincided with the 24th official British Meat Dinner – supported by AHDB Beef & Lamb and AHDB Pork - providing guests from the meat and food industry with the chance to sample beef, lamb and pork dishes, as well as network in an informal setting after a busy day at the event.

Anuga once again didn’t disappoint. A huge amount of work is carried out by our export team months and months in advance to ensure our industry is given the best representation possible to a global audience. Exports are one of the cornerstones of our work and judging by the volume of visitors to our stand there is clearly a huge amount of interest in what we have to offer. As the chairman said, exports are right at the core of AHDB’s work going forwards and our stand at Anuga was a real statement of intent as to what our ambitions are in the global market.


Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Red meat in the diet: what you need to know

Very few weeks go by without there being something in the media about red meat and health. Often it is positive, but just as often – sometimes the next day – there can be a story giving the opposite message. Whether it is the Mediterranean diet, red meat and cancer, red meat as a source of protein, or red meat and diabetes, the issues seem endless – and the end message to the consumer is confused.

Separating fact from fiction is the challenge and if we, as an industry, do not work hard to ensure the facts are there for people to make informed choices about what they eat, it does nothing to help maintain the meat eating habit which endures still among 97 per cent of the population.

AHDB has a dedicated meat and health programme split into two arms, with Meat Matters focused on consumer messaging, and a dedicated meat and health resource for healthcare professionals and journalists. The aim is to ensure that evidence-based information about red meat and its nutritional benefits are widely available.

We have produced factsheets on a range of issues that cover everything from cancer to diabetes to weight management, protein and minerals. They are all evidence-based, fully referenced with sources for the data, something rarely seen in anti-meat scare stories in the media.

Of course the challenge to us by anti-meat lobbyists is: well, you would say that wouldn’t you? (As would they about non-meat diets) However, we believe there should be a balanced, properly informed debate on issues around consumption of red meat so people can make their own choices, and our work seeks to provide that balance.

It is always great though when third party advocates champion the importance of red meat in the diet, just as Zanna Van Dijk, a personal trainer and fitness guru with a celebrity client list, did it he Daily Mail last week. She highlighted the importance of red meat as a source of iron to help cut fatigue. This was supported by Dr Carrie Ruxton, a nutritionist and member of the Meat Advisory Panel, which is supported by AHDB red meat divisions.

However, it remains difficult to get clear, evidence-based messaging on red meat out in the mainstream media. This will inevitably lead to more stories in the coming weeks, months and years urging people to cut red meat intake. So here are some key points to remember:

  • Levels of red meat consumption in the UK remain within the recommended intake guidelines
  • Red meat is a significant source of vitamins and minerals, including B12, which is not found naturally in foods of plant origin
  •  Beef and lamb are rich sources of protein, which helps build and maintain muscles.
  • Red meat has a role to play in the diet at every stage of life.

At the end of the day, lean, fresh red meat enjoyed in moderation as part of a balanced diet is something everyone can enjoy, even vegetarians after a few drinks, according to a recent survey, though it suggests they tend to skip the lean and fresh part!