Reductions in the fat content of red meat

Twenty years ago red meat and meat products were identified as major contributors to fat intake in the UK. Most of the visible (subcutaneous) fat in the meat was consumed. In the early 1980s the red meat industry began to shift production systems to favour less fat, reflecting more energy-efficient animal husbandry. For many years now there has been emphasis on reducing the fat content of our diets and this continued consumer demand for less fat further prompted the meat industry to consider ways of reducing the fat content of meat. The fat content of the carcase has been reduced in Britain by over 30% for pork, making British pork virtually the leanest in the world, 15% for beef and 10% for lamb, with further reductions anticipated for beef and lamb over the next 5-10 years. The fat content of fully trimmed lamb, beef and pork is now 8%, 5% and 4% respectively (Chan et al, 1995).

These achievements are due to three factors: selective breeding and feeding practices designed to increase the carcase lean to fat ratio; official carcase classification systems designed to favour leaner production; and modern butchery techniques (seaming out whole muscles, and trimming away all intermuscular fat). It is easier to appreciate the process and extent of fat reduction by looking at the changes over time for a single cut of meat such as a pork chop (Fig. 9.1). The reduction in fat for pig meat is well illustrated by the trend downwards in P2 fat depth between the 1970s and the 1990s (P2 is fat depth at the position of the last rib) (Fig. 9.2). Since 1992 it has remained stable at around 11mm.

Although updated compositional figures for British meat were published from 1986 onwards (Royal Society of Chemistry, 1986; 1993; 1996; Meat and Livestock Commission and Royal Society of Chemistry, 1990), it is only since updated supplements to the McCance and Widdowson tables were published in 1995 (Chan et al, 1995 and 1996), that the achievement of the meat industry in reducing the fat content of meat has been more widely acknowledged (Department Of Health, 1994b; Scottish Office, 1996; Higgs, 2000).

A fat audit for the UK, commissioned by the Government's Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to trace all fat in the human food chain provides a more accurate picture than National Food Survey (NFS) (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, 1981-99) data for identifying principal sources of fat in the diet, between 1982 and 1992 (Ulbricht, 1995). It illustrates that whereas the fat contributed by red meat decreased by nearly a third, that from fats and oils as a group increased by a third to contribute nearly half of our fat intakes (Fig. 9.3). This striking picture is lost in NFS data since vegetable fats (in particular) are consumed within a broad range of end products - from chips (so here they are hidden within the vegetables section) to meat products (so here they artificially inflate the apparent fat contributed by meat).

Fig. 9.1 Change in fat content of pork loin for 100g of raw edible tissue. (Adapted from Higgs JD and Pratt J, 1998) (McCance and Widdowson, 1940, 1960, 1978; Royal Society of Chemistry, 1995; MLC/RSC report to MAFF, 1990)

Fig. 9.2 Average P2 fat depth of British slaughter pigs 1972-1995.


Fig. 9.2 Average P2 fat depth of British slaughter pigs 1972-1995.

Dietary fat kg

j] Dairy fat J Fats and oils Red meat Fish | Eggs | Chocolate ^^ Poultry meat



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