WHO report on red meat no big surprise to farmers

If people eat Irish-reared meat, ‘they know what they are getting’, say defiant farmers

It's an ill wind that doesn't blow some good, especially when it is generated by World Health Organisation (WHO), according to some farmers and meat producers as they responded to research linking processed meat to cancer.

"If people eat Irish-reared meat, they know what they are getting,"said Connemara hill farmer Tom Halloran, who keeps sheep in the mountainous Joyce country close to Clonbur. "Being a farmer, I wouldn't eat meat myself every day – I love fish – and everything in moderation is fine."

The Connemara hill farmers’ group to which Mr Halloran and his wife, Nora, belong has “protected geographical indicator” status, which means the lamb is guaranteed to have been reared west of the great lakes of Corrib, Mask and Carra, as far as Louisburgh, Co Mayo. “It’s when people buy processed meat that it is heavy in additives that they should be more concerned,” Mr Halloran said.

The level of traceability from farm to fork is such that there's a DNA record of every boar in Ireland, Billy Costello of Future Pigs Ltd in Nurney, Co Kildare, says. Mr Costello, who sells 70,000 pigs a year in England and is a major supplier in Germany, believes there will be a public reaction. "However, if people begin to think a bit more about how safe their food is, that has to be good," he said.


“Irish meat is worth paying that bit more for, because if you are buying Irish-reared pork you can be sure that no more than 12 per cent of it is brine or water additive.

European pork

“This has been the legal situation here since the 1930s, but pork produced in


, which may be sold in Ireland, can have up to 30 per cent added.”

Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) pig meat committee chairman Pat O’Flaherty points out that red and processed meat are among 940 agents reviewed by the WHO’s International Association for Research on Cancer which are found to pose some level of theoretical “hazard”.

“Many of these are everyday substances, so it is about balance,” he says.

South Galway farmer Michael Kelly, based near Ardrahan, says there is an issue with processed food, and the level of chemicals used in preserving some foods "has to be looked at in more detail".

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times