Coveney cautions against over-reaction to WHO meat report

‘Sunshine can cause cancer as well. That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t stand out in it’

Responding to the WHO report on processed meat, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney said: “This is about moderation, it’s about people having a balanced healthy diet.”  Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Responding to the WHO report on processed meat, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney said: “This is about moderation, it’s about people having a balanced healthy diet.” Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has said there should not be an “over-reaction” to the World Health Organisation (WHO) report that found processed meats may increase the risk of cancer.

Mr Coveney said the research by the International Agency for Research in Cancer (IARC) should be taken seriously but said moderation was the key to a healthy, balanced diet.

“I think that red meat can be a very valuable part of that diet but I think everything in moderation I think is the message coming from this report,” he said.

“There are a lots of dangers for people if they have too much of it and so I think as I say we should look at this report, we should take it seriously like any WHO report, but I don’t think there should be an over-reaction to it.”

Mr Coveney was speaking to TV3 at the Curragh, Co Kildare. He was asked if he thought the report contained bad news for Irish producers of processed meat.

“I think we should be careful not to categorise all processed foods into the one category. Sunshine can cause cancer as well. That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t stand out in it,” he said.

“This is about moderation, it’s about people having a balanced healthy diet, and I think we should take our guidance and advice from the FSAI (Food Safety Authority of Ireland) in that regard.”

Meanwhile, the report also classified red meat – which includes beef, lamb and pork – as a “probable carcinogenic” and linked its consumption to a higher risk of pancreatic and prostate cancer.

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) president Patrick Kent insisted the report had not proven that consumption of red meat as part of a carefully balanced diet caused cancer.

“Ireland produces the best grass fed beef in the world. We cannot allow this message from the WHO to be taken out of context and be used to scaremonger consumers,” he said.

“The benefits of eating red meat are well known as it is an important source of protein, iron and vitamins. Eating sensibly and eating things in moderation are the key points in all recent public-health messages on diet.”

Mr Kent said a “myriad” of reports giving guidance on food were being published on an almost weekly basis. “We were told that butter was bad for you and margarine good; now the opposite is actually considered the truth.”

He said there were more pressing dietary issues to be confronted when obesity and bad diet were reaching “epidemic” proportions.

“The WHO report may be useful if it shines a light on highly processed foods which have been subjected to all sorts of processes and subjected the addition of dubious flavourings and colourings.”

He said there should be a focus on high levels of added sugar and the widespread use of high fructose corn syrup in processed foods.