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How the global meat trade is linked to global health

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A vendor hangs canned sausages at a wet market on November 12, 2021 in Xi an, China. Image credit: China News Service / Getty Images
  • Eating red meat and processed meats, such as ham, bacon, and sausages, can increase your risk for bowel cancer.
  • These types of meat products are also associated with an increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
  • Researchers have now estimated the health impacts of the growing international trade in red and processed meat.
  • They argue that international trade contributes to the increase in the incidence of food-related diseases by increasing the availability of these products.

Over the past two decades, global trade in red and processed meat has more than doubled, from 10 million tonnes in 1993-1995 to 24.8 million tonnes in 2016-2018.

The authors of a new study, published in BMJ Global Health, point out that the production of red meat for export has environmental costs in terms of habitat and biodiversity loss and harms the health of consumers.

Scientists write that the rapid increase in the global trade in red and processed meat has complicated efforts to make human diets healthier and more sustainable.

Indeed, trade increases consumption in countries that do not produce much red and processed meat for their own markets.

Researchers calculated the contribution of international trade in these types of meat to the health burdens of cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

They estimate that over the past two decades, the international trade in red and processed meat has contributed to a 75% increase in the global burden of these diseases.

The World Health Organization (WHO) classified processed meat as a definite cause of cancer and red meat as a probable cause.

Processed meat includes products such as sausages, bacon, salami, and ham.

“If you eat a lot of meat most of the time, it’s a good idea to think about cutting back,” said Amanda Finch, health information manager at Cancer research in the UK.

“But the less you eat, the lower your risk, so reducing is good for your health no matter how much you eat,” she said. Medical News Today.

Research has also linked the consumption of red and processed meat to increased risks of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Scientists at the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI, estimated the changes in health risks that were attributable to the global trade in red and processed meat.

They calculated the daily consumption of these types of meat in 154 countries per capita, based on the amounts produced, imported, exported and wasted by each country.

Data on red meat mainly concerned beef, pork, lamb and goat.

Data for processed meat – mainly beef and pork – included products preserved by smoking, salting, curing or artificial preservatives.

Scientists used information from the Global burden of disease project, which assesses the impact of particular risk factors for each country, to discover the health effects of meat consumption.

Specifically, they looked at deaths from colorectal cancer, type 2 diabetes, and ischemic heart disease, as well as the number of disability-corrected life years (DALYs) for these conditions.

They used a statistical tool called comparative risk assessment framework to estimate the contribution of red and processed meat imports to these deaths and DALYs in each country.

They report that the increase in consumption due to trade was responsible for 10,898 deaths worldwide in 2016-2018. This is an increase of 74.6% from 1993-1995.

The overall number of DALYs attributable to the global meat trade increased by 89.9%, from 165,008 in 1993-1995 to 313,432 in 2016-2018.

During the same period, the main meat-exporting countries causing these health problems have shifted from New Zealand, Australia and the United States to Brazil, Germany and the Netherlands. Low.

At the same time, the contributions of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay to the world trade in red and processed meat increased during this period from 0.5 million tonnes to 2.4 million tonnes.

This represents an increase from 4.9% to 9.7% of total world meat exports.

The global meat trade has had a particularly large impact on the health of island nations and relatively small countries that import a lot of red and processed meat, including the Bahamas, Tonga, Antigua and Barbuda, Seychelles and Singapore.

Although over 65% of trade-related deaths and disabilities occurred in high-income countries, the increase in the health burden during this period was greatest in low-income countries.

The authors explain that this was due to the dependence of high-income countries on imports to meet the increased demand for meat due to rapid urbanization and income growth.

They conclude:

“[C]Coordinated efforts between exporters and importers are crucial to adjust agricultural priorities from the production of large quantities of red and processed meats for exports to healthy plant-based foods.

“[A]Although many dietary guidelines have been suggested for human health and environmental sustainability across the world, few international initiatives and national guidelines for sustainable diets explicitly address the spillover effects of the meat trade across the globe. countries, ”said the lead author of the study, Min Gon Chung, Ph.D..

“Thus, the introduction of intersectoral policies (health, production and trade) aimed at reducing dependence on imports of red and processed meat is urgently needed to reduce food-related problems. [noncommunicable disease] incidence and mortality in these vulnerable countries, ”he said MNT.

The authors note certain limitations of their analysis.

For example, the study only looked at 20 major red and processed meat products. Researchers say other items could pose additional health risks.

Their analysis also did not take into account countries that import red meat for processing and re-export.

As a result, the study likely overestimated the health burden of the global meat trade in industrialized countries, such as the Netherlands and Singapore, which re-export a lot of meat.

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