Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Looking at the bigger picture to avoid Midlife ‘Crisis’

Another week, a similar story – red meat has again recently cast as one of the dietary pantomime villains, guilty of reducing healthy ageing and causing early death.

According to the study published in the American Journal of Medicine, a western type diet is associated with a reduced chance of healthy ageing. Unsurprisingly, it prompted a few alarmist headlines screaming that red meat was among the culprits in sending you to an early grave.

The Meat Advisory Panel (MAP), however, provided a more balanced perspective. Scratch beneath the surface and, not for the first time, flaws are revealed in a study of this nature. This was an epidemiological study in which data were drawn from the Whitehall II study. Participants in the Whitehall II study were London-based office staff, aged 35-55 years, who worked in 20 civil service departments at the start of the study in 1991-1993. All study participants were at least 60 years of age by the end of study follow-up in 2007-2009.

The aim was to assess the link between dietary pattern and healthy ageing.  A “Western-type” diet, characterised by high intakes fried food, pies, sweetened desserts, chocolates, refined grains, high-fat dairy products and condiments was associated with less healthy ageing than a diet involving adherence to healthy eating recommendations.

Dietary intake was assessed by a food frequency questionnaire which is not the most accurate of measures. Moreover, no one type of food can be implicated in any of the findings as the study looked at dietary patterns. This study also evaluated a very specific population whose findings cannot necessarily be translated to all UK population groups.

Meat is mentioned as part of the western dietary pattern, but this study cannot be used to show that red meat is linked with less healthy ageing. A western type diet is associated with lower fruit and vegetable consumption for example.

On a positive note, earlier this year we highlighted positive research supporting the fact millions of people have eaten meat for millions of years and have lived long, healthy lives. The Micronutrient challenges across the age spectrum research paper confirmed there is a role for red meat in the diet, whatever your age and concluded it had a beneficial role to play across the “seven ages of man” – from providing essential vitamin A, vitamin D, iron and zinc in infancy to upping intakes of magnesium, zinc and potassium from 75-years-old onwards.

The Department of Health recommends that adults should eat 70 grams of cooked meat a day (500g a week) as part of a healthy diet. Most people’s meat consumption falls within this guidance and it is sensible to continue to follow this advice. This study provides no evidence to suggest otherwise.

Ultimately, red meat makes an important contribution to intakes of key nutrients, such as zinc, iron, selenium B vitamins and vitamin D. As large numbers of people in the UK have intakes of these nutrients which fall below recommended intakes, it is valuable to include lean red meat in the diet and this latest study does nothing to prove a link with unhealthy ageing.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Underlining food and drink’s role in economic growth

Reports have highlighted that a focus on increasing exports can play a major role in helping the food and farming industries drive economic growth.

They came after Defra published details of how to make the food and farming industry more competitive, while protecting the environment. Citing that the sector is responsible for 3.5 million jobs and seven per cent of the UK’s overall economy, it made for encouraging reading.

Looking at specific areas in a little more detail, it was also encouraging to see that those identified are already high on the EBLEX agenda, not least boosting exports and undertaking work to mitigate the sector’s environmental impact.

Work to open more markets and remove trade barriers, promote the industry at overseas events, encourage more companies to export and support those who already do so are prominent areas raised by Defra and UKTI. While this is something we’ve mentioned in previous blogs, it’s worth reiterating that EBLEX has helped and continues to open new EU and non-EU markets for UK beef and lamb.

Our presence at overseas events Рrecently Gulfood in Dubai, CRFA in Canada and Salón de Gourmets in Madrid Рplay a crucial role in ensuring Quality Standard Beef and Lamb are seen and tasted on the world stage. These efforts will continue imminently at HOFEX, the largest trade and hospitality show in Asia, being staged next month in Hong Kong.

High on the political agenda is also the need to increase food production while improving the environment, as is promoting environmentally friendly ways of managing the landscape while increasing production. Again, these are areas where EBLEX has made great strides with its three environmental roadmaps, Change in the Air, Testing the Water and Down to Earth examining the beef and sheep sector’s impact on the environment. Similarly, the Landscapes without Livestock report examines what could happen in specific landscapes if they were no longer managed by livestock grazing them.

Providing better information and advice to farmers at the grassroots has also been cited as an area of importance to focus on and one where EBLEX’s Better Returns Programme fits the bill – encouraging English beef and sheep producers to evaluate their businesses to identify where improvements can be made in terms of cost reduction, environmental impact and animal performance.

After what has been and continues to be an immensely challenging period for producers, it’s encouraging to see a shared vision between industry and the policymakers that will hopefully pay long term dividends.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Working towards a harmonised EU-wide approach on medicated feed and veterinary medicine

The manufacture, distribution and authorisation of medicated feed and veterinary medicines among EU member states are currently under the spotlight.

Why? Under the current legislation, the lack of harmonisation of manufacturing standards of these products leads to very different national regimes, and ultimately inefficient intra-EU trade.

To safely harmonise the marketing of medicated feed and veterinary medicinal products in member states, and to ensure a better functioning of the single market, the Commission has decided to revise both the Directive on Medicated Feed and the Directive on Veterinary Medicinal Products.

Both currently present the same kind of problems when implemented – ill-defined provisions in the legislations lead to a lack of uniformity between member states and ultimately an imperfect functioning of the internal market and health-related risks.

On medicated feed, for example, insufficient and non-binding guidelines and inadequate mechanisms for the authorisation of premixes lead to a high diversity of national systems for the production and distribution of feeding stuffs. Different national systems and requirements then lead to cost differences between producers of these products.

Also, because of the lack of specification of production requirements, especially the provisions relating to incorporation of the medicine into the feed, there is a risk of incorrect dosage and ineffective treatment of animals, which can encourage the development of antimicrobial resistance. It is also deemed that the absence of common standards for carry-over of veterinary medicinal products residues into the feed for non-target animals increases the risks of cross-contamination.

Similarly, on veterinary medicinal products, the complexity of the provisions leads to high diversity in interpretation of the legislation and to lack of standardisation of the products’ components. Administrative difficulties to develop medicines on the EU market result in a high diversity of authorised medicines between member states, most veterinary medicines being authorised in a single national market. This is considered to put some farmers at a competitive disadvantage in the EU when they lack access to sufficient and suitable medicinal products in their country. On the health risk side, it is felt there are not enough incentives for the pharmaceutical industry to develop new medicinal products and that there is ultimately a lack of available medicines, especially for the treatment of rarer conditions.

To address these issues, proposals for two Regulations are expected to be published around the middle of the year, with the aim of being applied in the same binding way in all member states and avoiding interpretational issues.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Extreme weather devastating for livestock farmers

The extreme weather has undoubtedly made the first few months of 2013 exceptionally difficult for English livestock farmers, particularly coming on the back of the poor weather last year.

With the latest bout of heavy snow coinciding with the peak of the lambing season, some sheep farmers have suffered serious losses. Ewes and lambs have been unable to survive the snow drifts and freezing temperatures, which causes great personal distress as well as representing a cost to the business. Cattle farmers haven’t escaped unscathed, with the weather conditions causing disruption to spring calving and forcing them to delay turnout.

With the snow just beginning to thaw in certain areas, farmers are only now discovering the full extent of their losses. Keeping livestock alive continues to be a round-the-clock challenge, as access to quality grazing remains an issue and alternative feed needs to be provided.

Initial figures from the National Fallen Stock Company (NFSCo) show that, across the UK, an additional 19,910 sheep and 4,729 cattle died in January-March 2013 when compared with the same period last year (an increase of 15 per cent and six per cent respectively). These figures don’t tell the whole story and the total figure will certainly be higher, as in the worst hit regions animals will still be buried in the snow. With Defra, as well as the Welsh Assembly, announcing a derogation permitting on-farm burial or burning of carcases during these exceptional circumstances, we may never know the full extent of the losses.

While this situation is undoubtedly devastating for the farms affected and a severe blow for our sheep industry which has recently been through some difficult times, it’s important to keep the losses in perspective. In 2012, the UK produced a crop of 17 million lambs, and the expectation was that the crop in 2013 would be of a similar size. In light of the extreme weather and the anticipation of a lower lambing rate, this figure will now be revised down to some extent, but it currently seems unlikely that this will have a significant impact on supply.

Our hope for April is that we’ll finally see spring arrive, giving both the grass and our livestock the boost they really need.