To the French motto of liberté, égalité, fraternité should be added a fourth term: Meat Free Mondé. At least that’s the implication of a new report by an organisation dedicated to improving health in France.
The National Agency for Food Safety (Anses) has made “major changes” to its guidelines on meat eating, a reflection of the fact that a large and growing body of scientific evidence supports the fact that eating too much red and processed meat can lead to diseases such as heart disease, stroke and cancer.
Anses now recommends that citizens of the republic consume no more than 500 g of red meat per week and says that consumption of processed meat such as sausage and ham must be reduced “considerably”, to a maximum of 25 g a day. While the recommendations are put in the shade by British guidelines – the Department of Health advises Britons should eat no more than 70 g of meat a day, or 350 g a week – it is a huge step in the right direction for the famously omnivorous country.
Almost 100 food and nutrition experts contributed to the opinion, which involved using an algorithm to study a decade’s worth of diet-related data. Their goal was to determine what foods would be most effective in meeting the nutritional needs of the population while also decreasing the incidence of chronic disease and exposure to contaminants found in food. The “perfect plate” was then compared with what most French people tuck into at meal times – and the latter diet was found wanting.
“We do not eat enough legumes, a category of food that is rich in protein, fibre and micronutrients,” said nutritionist Professor Irene Margaritis, who contributed to the Anses report. As well as giving lentils, beans and chickpeas more of a starring role at mealtimes, Anses recommends eating more wholegrains, less refined food and approximately 400 g of fruit and vegetables a day, which more focus on the veg.
The French group Végé Cook said Anses’ opinion was significant because the agency is frequently lobbied by the agri-food industry; indeed, the report was condemned by FICT, the industry association for cured meats. While WWF-France, the French branch of the conservation organisation, welcomed the fact that “for the first time Anses highlights the need [for] a reduction in the consumption of non-poultry meat to 500 g a week”, however, it lamented the fact it made no direct connection between food and the environment. It said: “There is no explicit link between sustainable production (in particular organic farming) and health. An underwhelming assessment.”
Read the Anses guidance here