There is opportunity for the New Zealand red meat sector in the future global scenario for food posed by the recent EAT-Lancet Commission report, says Beef + Lamb NZ Ltd.
The 47-page report Healthy diets from sustainable food systems, which appeared in international medical journal The Lancet, involved 37 scientists from six countries, led by Harvard professor of epidemiology and nutrition Dr Walter Willett, and was funded by the Wellcome Trust and the EAT Foundation.
The resulting 47-page document was a scientific review of what constitutes a healthy diet from a sustainable food system. The authors’ aim was to produce a new universal healthy reference diet based on nutritional analyses and a comprehensive scientific framework defining sustainably planetary boundaries for such systems. It identified the six environmental systems on which food systems and the way we eat have the greatest impact: climate change, biodiversity loss, land-system use, freshwater use and nitrogen and phosphorus flows.
Since its launch, EAT-Lancet has attracted some criticism for possible bias and flawed use of science to support its conclusions. However, its findings highlight the importance of and demand for sustainable grass-fed products, like those produced in New Zealand. Beef + Lamb NZ Ltd’s chief insights officer Jeremy Baker believes this presents an opportunity for New Zealand to differentiate its products internationally, demanding a premium from eco-conscious consumers.
“New Zealand is already adopting many of the strategies recommended by the report’s authors including committing to healthy diet goals, reorienting agricultural priorities to producing high quality healthy food in a sustainable way and supporting biodiversity,” he notes.
Many of the recommendations are based on farming systems, such as grain-fed livestock production, not commonly used in New Zealand – which is a world leader in producing grass-fed red meat, says Baker.
Work will continue to consider how this country can continue to feed around 40 million of the growing world population in a sustainable way, alongside anticipated further increases in interest for alternative proteins.
Baker says New Zealand’s sheep and beef sector is committed to continuing the improvements it has made over the past three decades. These include a halving of sheep numbers, while maintaining similar levels of meat production, doubling the value of exports and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent. The sector is now implementing an environmental strategy to be carbon neutral by 2050.
Dietary recommendations differ from global health guidelines
EAT-Lancet recommends a major dietary shift for the planet, including reducing consumption globally of ‘unhealthy foods’, including red meat, by at least 50 percent and a lift of over 100 percent for legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables.
For a 70kg active individual on a diet of 2,500 calories per day, no more than 14 g of red meat (beef, lamb, mutton and/or pork) per day is suggested – just over a tenth of a typical New Zealand serving size. It does acknowledge, however, the changes to current diets needed will “differ greatly by region”.
However, as B+LNZ Inc’s head of nutrition, registered nutritionist Fiona Greig (now Windle) notes those guidelines differ from global health and New Zealand’s own current national guidelines.
“We support a range of healthy dietary patterns with and without meat, however I have concerns that the suggested reduction could have implications for vulnerable groups especially young women who may already be suffering from nutrient deficiencies.”
“Advocating a plant-based diet is not new and is something Beef + Lamb New Zealand has been advising for over two decades. Our advice has always been to ensure when eating red meat, that three-quarters of your plate is made up of plant-based foods.
Should red meat be significantly reduced from the diets of adults, Greig notes it will place vulnerable populations at risk. For example, 3.1 percent of New Zealand men and 15.5 percent of women aged over 71 years have an inadequate iron intake, while over 39.1 percent of men and 11.2 percent of women of all ages do not get enough zinc in their diet – for men over 71 this zinc-deficiency rises to 89.7 percent.
New Zealand grass-fed beef and lamb is naturally-produced and packed full of nutrients including quality protein, vitamins and minerals including iron, zinc and vitamin B12 and naturally low in sodium and low in fat when trimmed.
“The place of red meat in a healthy diet is well recognised in national and global dietary guidelines,” says Greig.
This article appeared in Food NZ magazine (February/March 2019) and is reproduced here with permission.