Analysing The Northern Irish Livestock and Meat Commission’s “Love NI Beef” Campaign
The Northern Irish (NI) Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) has launched its new "Love NI Beef" campaign to counteract the decline in beef sales and the growing consumer effort to reduce their meat consumption. The campaign is presented in both traditional media and online, with a combination of farmers, chefs, Dr's and environmental experts offering their opinion in their area of expertise.
The below will focus primarily on the nutritional claims made about beef and how accurate they are. It is important for the reader to recognize that this campaign is a paid-for pice of advertising by the LMC - it is not an objective platform where topics of nutrition, environment, and farming practices are being discussed in a balanced way. As we will discuss, it appears to be an attempt to address declining sales as 90% of adults surveyed in Northern Ireland still eat red meat, 26% planned to eat less in the future, and 36% of those surveyed said they already try to limit their red meat intake each week. The LMA described these individuals as "Lapsers" in the online launch event, and undertook research to see how consumers could be encouraged to reverse their decisions and eat meat regularly once again.
The Nutrititional Claims
On the LMC's website, a new section has been added for the "Love NI Beef" campaign. Alongside "Environment", "Responsible Beef Farming" & "Cuts Of Beef" sections, the "Health & Nutrition" page makes 4 main claims on the benefits of consuming beef over plant based or meat alternatives. Each of these is detailed below and evaluated, with all claims backed by the relevant credible sources. It should also be noted that the LMC did not back up any of their claims with sources or references of any kind:
1. Beef is a naturally rich in protein
Ignoring the blatant grammatical error in this statement, beef does contain high levels of protein, about 21g per 100g of beef. Beef is an animal muscle, in this case, cow muscle, and muscle in any mammal is built using the protein amino acids. However, as the Harvard Medical School repeatedly points out, it is the package within which the protein in contained in, and not the volume of protein that makes a difference to our health. Red meat intake, even in small amounts, has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and cancers. Eating a wide variety of plant based protein sources, such as nuts, beans, legumes, fruits and vegetables, ensures adequate protein intake alongside other classes of essential nutrients such as fibre and phytonutrients, which are only found in plants.
2. Beef is also a rich source of B Vitamins
This is a widely accepted fact: animal foods contain B vitamins, particularly B12, as bacteria in their intestine, populated by bacteria in soil manufactures the nutrient. Alongside that, livestock are injected with b12 to adress cobalt deficiency. However, beef is not the only way to get the essentail B vutamins. Until 1959, when scientists synthesized B12, the only adequete dieatary source of B12 was animal products. Nowdays, a simple B12 or B complex supplement taken as guided will fulfil this nutritional need.
3. Beef contains haem iron
Ignoring the misspelling of heme, the claim further states that heme iron is "the most bioavailable source of iron, which we cannot get from plant sources". This is true, heme iron, which is only found in meat, is more bioavailable than non-heme iron, which is found in plants. However, this statement is missing two key points.
The first is that non-heme plant iron, when combined with vitamin C, becomes more bioavailable than heme iron. This can be achieved by simply squeezing some vitamin c rich citrus onto greens, such as kale. Ironically, in the Beef Superfood Salad Recipe contained on the same Health & Nutrition page, the Chef, James Devine, adds both butternut squash and lemon juice (both excellent sources of vitamin C) to his salad. This ensures that the eater will in fact absorb more of the iron from the plant based source versus the beef itself, within a paid-for campaign that directly claims the exact opposite.
Secondly, the intake of heme iron from meat sources is associated with a significantly higher risk of heart disease vs non-heme iron intake. It should also be noted that vegetarians or plant based eaters do not have a higher risk of developing iron deficiency or amenia vs omnivores.
4. Beef is a highly nutritional food
This statement suggests that beef is high in nutrients. The issue is that it is a vague blanket statement which doesn't specify which nutrients. As we have examined in the past, 5 classes of nutrients exists that are required for optimal human health: Macronutrients, Micronutrients, Phytonutrients, Water, and Fibre are all essential nutritional components. Beef, like all meat, contains macronutrients in the form of protein and some micronutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals. It lacks phyto or plant nutrients, water and fibre. It aslo contains saturated fat and cholesterol, which are harmful to human health. Further specification on this claim is needed, but it cannot be said that beef is highly nutritious when it lacks 3/5 nutrient categories entirely and contains elements which harm human health.
The Bigger Picture
The "Love NI Beef" Campaign is yet another attempt from the meat industry to address falling sales and steadily decreasing consumer demand for their product. In fact, any industry facing this dilemma would likely follow the same path. Obviously, in this case, an alternative does exist in the emerging sector of plant based and alternative proteins. While on paper one might ask why farmers do not simply switch to producing a different product, that is not so simple in reality. Massive logistical, financial, and educational resources would be required over decades to begin a reskilling and essentially create a new industry in Northern Ireland. That is a task not many would take on, and in the face of Covid & Brexit, the UK economy is facing even more uncertain times ahead.
However, if present trends continue, Livestock Farmers in Northern Ireland will face the choice to adapt or die. One could draw parallels between the plant based industry and the internet. It is not simply a natural evolution of changing consumer trends in an existing field; it is a new way of operating entirely. The meat industry in both NI and globally may go the way of the travel agent, bricks and mortar retail, and CD sales - transform your business model to the new way of life, as difficult as that may be, or perish.
Negative stories about red meat and human health eat up more and more page space than the positive stories.The rise of alternative proteins and the vegan lobby can make it seem like, as an industry, we are being backed into a corner with no way out