Red meat’s message benefits industry

Red meat in nutrition and healthIt’s time to halt the widely held mistaken belief that red meat is dangerous. The recently published Red Meat in Nutrition and Health could generate some life-saving marketing messages for the local red meat industry.

In the last 20 to 30 years, consumers have been told by nearly every medical authority that red meat is bad for you. It’s been depicted as the root to all health evils, from cancer to obesity, hypertension and even death. But, just because two things happen at the same time or to the same person, it doesn’t mean that one thing causes the other. A fun analogy that’s often used is the correlation between ice cream consumption and drowning. Ice cream intake goes up the same time drowning does. Does ice cream cause drownings? Well, unless you fall off a boat while trying to grab your dropped soft-serve cone, probably not. Both ice cream consumption and drownings go up in warmer weather — people eat more, people swim and go sailing more. In other words, before we ban swimming to prevent water-related deaths, we need to remember that phenomena might occur together, but one doesn’t necessarily cause the other. This has implications for a recent study on the relationship between health and red meat.

Getting the specifics right

Lean SA lamb and mutton contains less than 10 per cent fat per 100g when trimmedAn ongoing campaign to promote the consumption of South African lamb and mutton was launched in 2008 by the Sheep Meat Marketing Forum on behalf of the Red Meat Industry Forum. As consumers are increasingly more focused on the quality and nutritional characteristics of meat  and meat products, newly determined values on the nutrient composition of local lamb and mutton formed the basis of this campaign, including:

  • Repositioning and creating a new image for SA lamb and mutton.
  • Educating the consumers and health professionals to increase knowledge and awareness of its nutritional value.
  • Communicating and sharing information within the supply chain.
  • Keeping consumption stable and increasing knowledge about local lamb and mutton.

To put the facts straight, the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Wellbeing at the University of Pretoria, in conjunction with Lamb & Mutton South Africa, published a journal detailing the current science about South African lamb and mutton.

‘We fully support the science based approach when it comes to red meat consumer education,’ comments the Red Meat Producers’ Organisation’s (RPO) CEO Gerhard Schutte. Although aimed primarily at health professionals, the book is a boon for the red meat product manufacturers to finally get across to the consumer that much of the information ‘out there’ is exaggerated myths and misconceptions. ‘Informed consumers not only contribute to the national wellbeing in respect of nutrition and health, but especially also to the viability and sound development of the sheep meat and other red meat industries,’ he adds.


We all know that obesity is the most important nutritional disease and is now an epidemic (although many countries – particularly SA – have the double burden of millions suffering from undernutrition); and that the incidence of chronic diseases continues to increase. So, it’s no wonder that consumer interest in the role that food plays in controlling these afflictions is growing. The revised South African Food-Based Dietary Guidelines related to animal products recommend that ‘fish, chicken, lean meat or eggs can be eaten daily’ and, true, studies have found a positive association between obesity and high saturated fat intake, which has led to experts to promote the wisdom of easting less red meat in order to restrict fat intake.

But, this is where the correlation issue factors in. For instance, what if:

  • people who ate more red meat also had stressful jobs?
  • people who didn’t eat red meat were more likely to be well educated, affluent professionals, which is a group with lower early death rates?
  • people who ate red meat were more likely to live in certain areas?

Borrowed from the US

Various studies have found substantial changes over time in the composition of red meat, especially in the reduction in the amount of fat both on the carcass itself and after trimming. In fact, previous reference values on the nutrient content of sheep meat were borrowed from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) as no local values were available and these didn’t reflect our unique breeds and animal husbandry and industry practices. Research conducted locally has found that lean SA lamb and mutton contains less than 10 per cent fat per 100g when trimmed, which is significantly less than previously reported. Even not trimmed, the scientists found that the meat contains as much healthy unsaturated fatty acids as saturated fatty acids.

Meat plays an integral role in global eating and its nutritional attributes make a significant contribution to an individual’s requirements for protein, vitamins and minerals. Promoting a healthy lifestyle to reduce the global burden of non-communicable diseases requires a wide multisectoral approach, which needs the involvement of various sectors in society – particularly the industry that’s involved in manufacturing the end products.Red meat in nutrition and health by Hettie Schonfeld and Nicolette Hall

Written by Prof Hettie Schönfeldt and Nicolette Hall, the book deals with the nutrient composition of South African lamb and mutton, as recently determined in studies performed at the University of Pretoria in collaboration with the Agricultural Research Council (ARC). Results are interpreted according to the most recent scientific evidence and include expert opinion from Prof Tim Noakes, Dr Carl Albrecht (head of research at CANSA) and Dr Catherine Champagne of the Louisana State University, among others.

Red meat in a green environment

It’s widely known that climate change could be the biggest global health threat of the 21st century, and that the finger is squarely pointed at livestock production as the major culprit. However, a French study conducted last year found that an apple could actually produce more than double the CO2 than lamb or mutton. When meat is reduced in a diet, it’s usually compensated for by fruits and vegetables. To produce isoenergical (similar energy content) substitutes to meat, the researchers observed that there were either no, or greater, changes on greenhouses gasses. Consuming 50g dietary protein from lamb or mutton produces around 2kg CO2 equivalents during the production process; while 50g of protein from an apple would create around 4.5kg CO2 equivalents.

This is a particularly positive message for meat manufacturers, especially since, according to Schutte, the medium term outlook for the red meat industry is very positive indeed. ‘Demand for beef will grow by 25 per cent to 2020, and mutton and lamb by 20 per cent. Almost 40 per cent of livestock belongs to emerging producers, so red meat’s playing a vital part in food security in this sector,’ he concludes.

Useful information

Red Meat in Nutrition and Health can be downloaded by following this link. Alternatively you can contact or for more information. You can also view the Healthy Meat website for more interesting information on red meat.