WHO alert on red-meat to impact economy



The health alert released by International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that consumption of red meat and its processed substance could probably cause cancer, may have alarmed individuals passionate about the food.



The study by World Health Organization (WHO) found that processed meats including beef, mutton, pork, veal and lamb are a known human carcinogen also processed meats like bacon and sausage carry more risk of the disease, with each 50 grams of processed red meat eaten daily increasing the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. 

Whole red meat was also found to be a ‘possibly carcinogenic’. Red meat intake has also been linked to other types of cancer such as breast cancer, pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.

The alarming reports have not been received kindly by meat lovers both in Kenya and the regional nations.

With an ailing economy that is only starting to pick up and to which the meat processing industry is a main contributor, these new findings are bound to drive the economy on a downward spiral. 

Further, the news is poised to affect everyone on the value-chain from meat processors to fast food chains and eateries, with the latter likely to feel the greatest pinch. 

The organization had issued a similar warning on the dangers of over-consumption of sugar last year, resulting to a fall in sugar sales – and the latest announcements could be an indicator of what’s to come for the meat industry. 

Livestock sub-sector makes up about 10percent of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product, with an estimated 75percent of the population depending on this sector either directly or indirectly. Kenya also exports red meat mostly to the Gulf States, countries like Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. 

On the other hand, Tanzania boasts of having the third largest livestock population in Africa, with livestock contributing around 5percent of its Gross Domestic Product. 

Tanzania exports red meat, mostly sheep and goat meat to Oman, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait and other African countries like Malawi. In Uganda, livestock production forms about 9percent of the Gross Domestic Product and is a source of livelihood for more than 4.5 million citizens. However, Uganda’s performance of livestock exports is dismal, mostly due to excessive taxation.

The report is bound to affect many businesses across the region with meat processing companies such as Farmers Choice and those involved in the exportation of livestock products will be forced to export fewer quantities due to the anticipated decrease in the demand for the product in the foreign markets. 

This will in turn lead to loss of revenue for these companies who will have no choice but to spend more on overhead costs. Loss of jobs is also expected at the factories and workers be left without a source of income. 

The effect of declined red meat sales is also poised to hard hit on the livestock farmers especially those in arid and semi- arid areas involved in large scale livestock farming and heavily relies on the companies to sell their heads of cattle – small scale framers will not be spared either.

The ripple effects will be felt on communities that heavily rely on livestock as their main source of living. Most communities are now staring at a possible change of culture. This will translate into a slump in the income for these farmers, who will have to resort to other forms of farming like crop farming or rearing of poultry. 

Eating joints and restaurants that sell red meat and its products will be adversely affected as well and will experience a plummet in business. 

Kenyan government had in the 2009- 2010 budget allocated funds to build two slaughterhouses in Isiolo and Garissa, and allocated more money in the 2010- 2011 budget to build more slaughterhouses in Kajiado, Wajir and West Pokot – but all these efforts may not bore the much anticipated growth, including other slaughterhouses and abattoirs owned by farmers’ cooperatives while others are privately owned. 

Kenya Meat Commission remains the largest in the country but the commission has faced several challenges in the past and was even on the verge of closure back in 2013. Many employees lost their jobs and the government had to step in and offer grants to salvage the institution and now with these new connections between red meat intake and cancer, business will only deteriorate, not only for Kenya Meat Commission but also for the other slaughterhouses.

The common citizens who usually take red meat will have to minimize on the intake or run the risk of contracting cancer. Their eating habits will be interfered with and adjustments have to be made. Most will have to resort to white meat which is generally more expensive than red meat especially for large and lower income households. 

To offset the losses incurred by reduced demand of red meat and red meat products, businesses dealing in the sale of these products will most likely increase their prices, burdening the common citizen who will now have to spend more on red meat when they purchase it. 

On the bright side, crop and poultry farmers are set to benefit from these findings since consumption of poultry products and fresh farm produce will rise. Hopefully businesses dealing in red meat will put in place the right measures to protect their dealings and safeguard the jobs of their employees.

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