According to a study published in the open access journal BMJ Global Health, the global rise in red and processed meat trade over the past 30 years has been linked to a sharp increase in diet-related ill health, with the impact being greatest in Northern and Eastern Europe, as well as the Caribbean and the island nations of Oceania.
According to the researchers, health policies should be integrated with agricultural and trade policies among importing and exporting countries as soon as possible to avoid further personal and social losses.
To meet demand, the worldwide red and processed meat trade has grown tremendously in tandem with continued urbanization and wealth increase. Because of its impact on land usage and biodiversity loss, this trend has environmental concerns.
In addition, eating a lot of red and processed meat has been related to an increased risk of noncommunicable diseases such colon cancer, diabetes, and coronary artery heart disease.
The researchers wanted to know what impact the red and processed meat trade might be having on diet-related noncommunicable disease trends, as well as which nations might be especially vulnerable.
They used data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on meat production and trade for 154 countries from 1993 to 2018, focusing on 14 red meat items derived from beef, pork, lamb, and goat, as well as six processed beef and pork items preserved by smoking, salting, curing, or chemicals.
They then computed the proportions of deaths and years of life lived with disability (DALYs) attributed to diet among persons aged 25 and over in each country as a result of colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, and coronary artery heart disease.
From 10 metric tonnes in 1993–5 to approximately 25 metric tonnes in 2016–18, the global red and processed meat trade surged by more than 148%.
Net exporting countries decreased from 33 in 1993–5 to 26 in 2016–18, while net importing countries increased from 121 to 128.
In the years 1993–95 and 2016–18, developed European nations accounted for half of all red and processed meat exports. However, developing South American countries such as Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay accounted for about 10% of the total in 2016–18, up from under 5% in 1993–5.
Developing nations’ meat imports climbed by 342.5 percent from 2 metric tonnes in 1993–5 to approximately 9 metric tonnes in 2016–18, while developed countries’ increased by 16 percent from 8 metric tonnes to 16.
Between 1993-5 and 2016-18, the global meat trade’s diet-related attributable death and DALY rates increased in three-quarters of the 154 nations.
According to the researchers, increases in red and processed meat consumption, which coincided with increases in trade, resulted in 10,898 attributable fatalities worldwide in 2016–18, up roughly 75% from 1993–5.
Between 1993-5 and 2016-18, the worldwide meat trade contributed to rises of 55 percent and 71 percent in attributable fatalities and DALYs in developed nations, respectively.
According to the researchers, the equivalent values in emerging countries were much higher: 137 percent and 140 percent, respectively, owing to increased demand for meat induced by fast urbanization and wealth rise.
Island nations in the Caribbean and Oceania, as well as countries in Northern and Eastern Europe, became particularly vulnerable to diet-related sickness and fatalities as a result of substantial meat imports between 1993 and 2018.
The researchers explain that because island nations have limited land for meat production, they rely heavily on meat imports, whereas many European countries, such as Slovakia, Lithuania, and Latvia, benefited from regional trade agreements and tariff exemptions after joining the European Union in 2003-4, which accelerated meat imports.
Tonga, the United Arab Emirates, Barbados, Fiji, Gabon, the Bahamas, Greece, Malta, Brunei, and Saint Lucia were among the top ten countries with the greatest proportion of mortality attributed to red meat intake from 1993 to 2005.
The Netherlands, Bahamas, Tonga, Denmark, Antigua and Barbuda, Seychelles, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Croatia, and Greece were among the top ten countries from 2016 to 2018. In these nations, the meat trade was responsible for more than 7% of all deaths in 2016-18 due to diets heavy in both red and processed meat.
The trends in attributable DALYs were almost identical to the trends in attributable deaths.
Between 1993–5 and 2016–18, the number of deaths and DALYs attributable to the global meat trade decreased in 34 nations. However, in 24 nations, population growth outpaced increases in meat imports, while domestic meat production grew in 19.
Between 1993-5 and 2016-18, the absolute number of diet-related fatalities and DALYs in more than half of these countries (20) increased in lockstep with growing meat consumption.
And some nations, such as Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, and Germany, have become net meat exporters, resulting in changes in land use and biodiversity loss.
Because this is an observational study, it is impossible to determine cause. Furthermore, the researchers note that many countries import and process red meat for export, which could have skewed their results.
Nonetheless, they come to the following conclusion: “This research demonstrates that global increases in red and processed meat trade contribute to a rapid rise in diet-related [noncommunicable diseases]… Future interventions must combine health policies with agriculture and trade policies as quickly as possible, relying on cooperation between responsible exporting and importing countries.”