Speaking at the Red Meat Sector conference in Christchurch, New Zealand, Professor Frédéric Leroy, who has a background in microbiology, food science and human and animal well-being at Vrije University in Brussels, told delegates that meat has become a ‘pharmakon’, meaning that it is all at the same time a remedy, a poison and a scapegoat.
In his presentation, he said that meat is a “symbolic food”, but there are also anxieties surrounding meat to do with animal welfare, body image and environmental issues.
“These anxieties are being propagated by mass-media running anti-meat campaigns in a post-truth era where the facts are cherry-picked and headlines are sensationalised – designed to grab attention.”
Leroy said global food producers are happy to pick up on the “vegan” trend as an “elegant solution” to growing profits in a saturated global market as it “enables them to use cheap materials and charge high prices for their products”.
Drawing analogies with margarine, which was created developed as a cheap alternative to butter, Leroy explained it was later marketed as a modern and progressive butter substitute and margarine sales overtook butter.
He said this same marketing strategy is being used for meat substitutes with claims that it cooks, looks and tastes like meat, yet it is an ultra-processed product.
Meanwhile Leroy said policy-makers have also “jumped on the anti-meat bandwagon” with calls for taxes on meat and a reduction in meat consumption by leading politicians and NGOs.
He said he didn’t believe any of this is justified and says the focus on meat in relation to its impact on climate change is drawing attention away from the real issue which is fossil fuels stating “these are by far the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases and climate change”, and if all of the US went vegan it would reduce that country’s greenhouse gas emissions by between 2% and 6% and but would also result in significant nutritional deficiencies.
He also extolled the nutritional benefits of meat and its ability to deliver essential amino acids to the human diet. “Humans have been eating meat for over 1.5 million years and without developing the ability to eat meat, humans would not have survived.
“Historically, meat made up 68% of a person’s diet, in the US, meat now contributes 38% to the average diet yet there has been a surge in dietary related diseases such as Metabolic Syndrome and diabetes.
“In emerging economies, red meat and dairy products are embraced as being beneficial to heart health and longevity.”
Professor Leroy said the public needs to “stop blaming farmers, livestock and animal sourced feeds and integrate them responsibly as part of the solution instead”, and urged meat to be viewed with pride.
“Livestock farmers are working with nature and people don’t get that,” he added. “Meat is fundamentally beneficial. We need to communicate that and get the science in behind it."