Beef's bad rap based on poor science: prof

Beef has been getting a bad rap - blamed for everything from increased cancer to greenhouse gas emissions by environmental and commercial influencers.

Prof Frederic Leroy, Professor of Food Science and biotechnology at Vrije Universiteit, Brussels, said meat had effectively become a scapegoat for commercial and environmental advocates, much of which was based on bad science.

Speaking at the red meat sector conference this week in Christchurch, Prof Leroy said the industry as a whole had a responsibility to change the narrative.

"The anti-meat lobby has gained traction in Europe and elsewhere over the past few years. Its led to calls for a sin tax on meat or even meat eaters being banned from restaurants, by high level policy-makers.''

Prof Leroy said one of the major issues is that advocates had linked a reduction in CO2 gas emissions directly to meat intake.

"The impression is that you as an individual can reduce emissions simply by eating less red meat. And on top of which it's better for you. Unfortunately, this entire chain of proof is not based on scientific method and has been corrupted by vested interests and commercial priorities,'' he said.

"Eating meat is a very small slice of the problem as variance to diet doesn't have much of an impact. The average person emits around 12t CO2 per year. Switching to a vegan diet would save around 0.81t CO2 with flexitararians a bit less at 0.31t CO2. So exclusive plant-based nutrition would represent a decrease of between 1-6% in carbon emissions.''

He said media played a part in promoting negative stereotypes, promoting research suggesting that in Western countries, beef consumption needed to fall dramatically and be replaced by plants such as beans and pulses.

"The elephant in the room is fossil fuels. Global tourism accounts for 8% of overall carbon emissions, mobile phones around 14% and cement production around 7%. They aren't receiving much attention.

"We obviously need to face up to the challenge of feeding the world with nutrient-dense food, but there remained an important place for beef and other ruminant meats.

"Global climate change does require our attention and we need to focus on making our environments and food systems more sustainable. Meat simply isn't the root cause.

"New Zealand producers will need to get their act together based on science and telling the story of biodiversity.''

There was a need for more pride in what we produced. "These are fantastic products and public should feel that. The whole idea of alternative product burgers is that they aren't aimed at vegans who represent a very small part of the market. They are aimed at larger public and getting us to a point where meat and meat imitations are interchangeable. Meat is more than a beef patty - it is part of our cultural heritage and centre of our humanity.''


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