US red meat study – Soil Association response
14 March 2012
A recent and widely reported  study by the Harvard School of Medicine claims consumption of red meat is responsible for one in ten early deaths. While the Soil Association does not contest the findings of the study, we do question their relevance beyond the US due to the large differences in the way red meat, particularly beef, is produced and consumed in different parts of the world.
US beef is primarily raised in feedlots after weaning, meaning it is mostly grain-fed with little or no grass in the diet. By comparison, most beef cattle in the UK, for example, graze for much of the year and eat hay or silage when indoors.
The diet fed to beef cattle has a large impact on the proportion of different fatty acids in the meat, with grass-fed beef containing up to 11 times more omega-3 fatty acids as well as higher levels of cancer-fighting conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and lower total fat.
In addition, over the last 25 years most US beef cattle have been given both hormone and antibiotic growth promoters. There has long been evidence that even small increases in hormone levels as a result of using hormone growth promoters can increase the risk of people developing cancer in later life. In the UK, these hormones have been banned since 1986.
Soil Association policy advisor Richard Young said:
“We have to recognise that the way in which most beef, in particular, is produced in the US is very different from the way most beef is produced in the UK. During the whole period when this study was undertaken, almost all beef in the US was getting hormone growth promoters and antibiotic growth promoters in feed. There are good reasons to believe that these both increase the risk of cancer.”
For press enquiries contact the Soil Association press office:
Clio Turton, press office manager - 0117 914 2448 / 07795 562 556
Josh Stride, press & e-communications officer – 0117 314 5170 / 07717 802 183
Notes to editor:
 Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail
 Grass-fed beef is available in the US and some producers now specialise in it; however it accounts for only a small proportion of total production.
 Source: ‘Review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant in grass-fed and grain-fed beef’ - Daley (et al) (2010)
 Source: ‘Opinion of the SCVPH on the potential risks to human health from hormone residues in bovine meat and meat products’ - European Commission Health & Consumer Protection Directorate-General (2002)
 Source: ‘The sensitivity of the child to sex steroids: possible impact of exogenous estrogens’ – Aksglaede (et al) (2006)
 Grass fed beef has:
- Higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids
- A much lower omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, which reduces the risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease.
- Higher levels conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which has strong anti-cancer properties.
- Higher levels of antioxidants which also reduce cancer risks
- Lower total fat
- Higher levels stearic acid, a saturated fat that does not affect blood cholesterol levels
- Lower levels of myristic, lauric and palmitic acid, three saturated fats that do affect blood cholesterol levels.