Government back peddles over red meat advice

05 March 1998

Government back peddles over red meat advice

By Boyd Champness

A GOVERNMENT report leaked in September last year advising consumers to eat no more than 90 grams of red meat a day – equivalent to a quarter pound hamburger – has been toned down.

The original report, produced by COMA, the Department of Healths food safety advisor, recommended people eat no more than 90g of red meat a day in order to reduce the risk of colon cancer.

At the time, Government officials denied that the COMA report had created a rift between the Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture. Nevertheless, the reports official release was delayed until December, and then delayed again until today.

The amended report now says people who eat 90g or less of red meat a day – the current average consumption – need not reduce their intake. People eating a lot more than 90g of red meat a day “might” benefit from a reduction, it says.

Sir Kenneth Calman, chief medical officer and COMA chairman, said as a guide 90g of red meat a day converts to about eight to 10 portions of cooked and processed red meat a week. High consumers are those who eat about 140g a day which converts to roughly 12 to 14 portions a week.

The Department of Health press release said the original report was deferred by Frank Dobson, health secretary, when he learnt that the reports recommendations “had not been discussed by all members of COMA” and they needed more time to consider its recommendations to ensure scientific accuracy and clarity.

Both the National Farmers Union and the Meat and Livestock Commission welcomed the amended document.

Colin Maclean, MLC director general, said: “People should be aware of the importance of meat in a balanced diet. It contains a significant range of minerals and vitamins essential to health.”

“Indeed, the report itself refers to concerns about low consumption of red meat and possible consequent risks of developing iron deficiency and anaemia,” he said.

Ben Gill, NFU president, said the union has always highlighted the need for people to eat a balanced diet which includes everything from fruit and vegetables to red meat.

Don Curry, MLC chairman, was very critical of the original report when it was leaked in September. He said, at the time, that the report conflicted with eight other studies carried out around Europe, none of which found any evidence of a connection between eating red meat and colon cancer.

He added that red meat consumption had fallen by 25% in the past 20 years, yet the incidence of colon cancer had jumped by 20% in the same period.

Red meat consumption is higher in Greece than in the UK but the level of colon cancer is roughly half. The reason being, Greeks eat almost two-and-a-half-times more fruit and vegetables than Britons, Mr Curry added.

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