Farming & Fisheries

Beef farmers frustration as EU links red meat to cancer risk

January 20th, 2022 5:10 PM

By Emma Connolly

Clive Buttimer says the EU’s position on red meat is ‘frustrating’ for farmers. (Photo: Andy Gibson)

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MOVES by the EU to label red meat a cancer risk and block funding for its promotion have been slammed as a wilful misrepresentation of the actual research.

The European Commission has announced plans to classify red meat as possibly carcinogenic this year, particularly regarding colorectal cancer.

However, ICSA president Dermot Kelleher said the EU is taking an ‘ideological position on red meat that is not supported by incontrovertible evidence.’

Ballinascarthy beef farmer Clive Buttimer agrees, and described the evidence used as ‘tenuous at best’.

Mr Kelleher said: ‘The EU seems to be blaming red meat consumption for increased cancer risk whereas the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) report on behalf of the World Health Organisation (WHO) only found a marginal increased risk in the case of processed meats. It could not find sound evidence regarding unprocessed red meats.

‘It is important to note that the research actually suggests that additives and processes such as smoking meat are likely the issue in the case of processed meats.

‘Even then, a substantial consumption of processed meat every day only led to a 1% higher lifetime risk.’

He claimed the EU is taking a very ideological position on red meat that is not supported by incontrovertible evidence.

‘It is worrisome that the EU appears to be supporting highly processed plant burgers over real meat.

‘Apart from the fact that it is not based on robust evidence, it is distorting fair competition and actually undermining highly nutritious food produced by EU livestock farmers.’

Mr Buttimer said the EU’s position was ‘frustrating’.

‘As a beef farmer I am often asked by my non-farming friends about the environmental sustainability of beef, but never before have I been asked if it is safe to eat. That, in itself, is instructive, we have always eaten it.

‘Red meat has been eaten for thousands of years, but colorectal cancer is a relatively modern disease.

‘Are we really blaming an ancient food for a modern disease which has accelerated since the 1960s?

‘To me it seems highly unlikely that a food that gave us an advantage since prehistoric times, and that we are adapted to eat, has now suddenly become harmful to us. Should we eat more vegetables and less processed junk? Absolutely. Should we be afraid of red meat as part of a healthy balanced diet? Absolutely not.’

Eoin Lynch of Bantry Bay Farm Foods agreed and said: ‘The evidence merely suggests that additives to processed red meat and cooking techniques such as smoking may have a 2% risk when substantial amounts are consumed.’

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