Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) published a study investigating how six British farming organizations represent the sector. The peer-reviewed study was published in the journal Food Policy. In it the scientists argued that the meat industry could be trying to downplay the impacts of meat farming.

It claimed that the organizations used methods from a “well-thumbed playbook” similar to those use seen in industries like alcohol, tobacco and fossil fuels.

But the results have not been welcomed by farmers across the UK, with several expressing their outrage at the “reckless and unjustified” claims of the report.

LSHTM lead author Dr Kathryn Clare said: “There is growing evidence to suggest that current consumption trends of red and processed meat are a threat to both human health and the health of the planet and this is increasingly being recognized in UK policy spheres.

“Our findings suggest that the meat industry may be using various frames that counteract this narrative.”

The National Farmers’ Union was the main organization which went under the microscope out of the six, with ten documents (four reports and six quotes) included in the report.

But the NFU did not deem this as an accurate reflection of reality.

Tom Bradshaw, NFU deputy president, told The Telegraph: “It is reckless and unjustified for this study to compare the UK livestock sector with commodities such as tobacco and fossil fuels, where there is a very strong scientific consensus about harm to human health and the environment.

“Arguments about diet and food production are much more nuanced, complex and widely debated among scientists.

“When customers purchase British red meat products they are buying sustainable, local food, often raised in areas where it is difficult to grow other foods. The same cannot always be said for some highly processed plant-based foods. “

But the study points out that recent evidence indicates that plant-based diets can be a healthy choice, although it might be necessary to use B12 and iron supplements.

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It claims that consuming red and processed meat, even in small amounts, might harm health, including increasing risk of colorectal cancer.

But senior author from LSHTM Dr James Milner, said that the report findings “should act as a call to action for greater scrutiny of the industry, as addressing people’s appetite for meat will be crucial to efforts to avert climate breakdown and improve public health”.

The researchers did also acknowledge the limitations of the study.

For instance, they chose not to focus on individual companies, and were aware that several of the relevant organizations included did not have public facing documents.

While there is a debate about the impact of red meat on health, several observational studies have revealed that red meat is associated with a greater risk of death, including from heart disease.

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As the study notes, high consumption of red meat has also been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers, particularly colorectal and breast cancers.

It has also been proven that cow farming produces significant amounts of methane emissions, a harmful greenhouses gas, and therefore makes the industry one of the key contributors to climate change globally, much like fossil fuels.

The UN estimates it that livestock makes up more than 14 percent of all man-made greenhouse gases, including methane.

But according to the UK’s Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, greenhouse gas emissions are lower from UK-produced beef because the “landscape and climate is perfect for growing grass, with grasslands covering 65 percent of our farmland and 50 percent of total land”.

Because of this, cows don not need as much on grain and other feed, keeping the carbon footprint lower compared with some other countries.

The LSHTM study can be found here: Messaging from the UK meat industry is undermining evidence on the environmental and health impacts of red and processed meat | LSHTM

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