Quality Notes

At a recent EU conference on new directions in beef research, held in Aberystwyth, the issue of beef's nutritional value was discussed. Beef often gets a bad press on this front and many people feel that is unfair. Maureen Strong from Bpex showed that beef contributes to a healthy diet, providing iron, B vitamins and zinc, as well as high-quality protein. Vegetarians are at risk from conditions such as anaemia when they exclude meat from their diet.

The downside for beef is saturated fat, but the lean beef commonly on sale today is much better in this regard than previously, and the saturated fat can easily be counteracted by eating a balanced diet with the 'healthy' fatty acids coming from elsewhere. Indeed, grass-fed beef provides some of these healthy fatty acids in the form of Omega-3 fatty acids. Other papers at the conference identified grass-fed beef as most clearly meeting consumers' expectations not just on nutritional value, but also on animal welfare and the fact that beef production does not compete for feeds humans can use, as grass is a major part of the diet.

Despite this good news, the general public continues to identify red meat as unhealthy and to distinguish it from 'healthy' chicken. This is shown in the rolling consumer surveys conducted by Bpex. It seems that the relentless negative references to red meat in the media are responsible for this perception. An interesting point made by Strong was that consumer perceptions of beef itself are improving. This suggests that beef is not automatically identified as red meat in people's minds. Meanwhile, beef consumption in the UK now stands at 17kg/head per year, having increased gradually from the lows of the late 1990s but still well down on the 30kg or so consumed early in the 20th century, when hardly any chicken was eaten.