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World Meat Congress Wrapping Up in Paris

The 2012 World Meat Congress concludes today in Paris. Organized by the International Meat Secretariat (IMS), the three-day event attracted about 1,000 attendees from around the world. Tuesday’s theme was “Supply and Demand, Our Part of a True Story.” USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng led panel discussions on topics covering animal welfare, human health and communication technology. Seng is the only American to serve as president of the IMS, covering four terms. He now chairs the IMS Animal Welfare Committee and is one of two vice presidents on the IMS Executive Council.

“The World Meat Congress is a tremendous forum for meat industry leaders to attend,” Seng said. “The dialogue here extends well beyond the immediate issues we face in terms of market access and government regulation, and speaks to the challenges and opportunities likely to confront the meat industry for many years to come.” World-Meat-Congress
Tuesday’s panelists included Dr. Cheryl McCrindle, a veterinary science faculty member at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. She discussed the misperception among many consumers that modern agriculture is not committed to animal welfare, stating that animal husbandry practices – including those used by intensified systems – have improved greatly in recent years.

In a presentation titled, “Good Intentions, Unintended Consequences: Lessons from a U.S. Animal Welfare Decision,” former U.S. Congressman Charles Stenholm updated the audience on the horse slaughter situation in the United States. He explained the negative animal welfare implications of eliminating the U.S. horse processing industry.

Jos Goebbels of the Netherlands, president of European Livestock And Meat Trading Union (UECBV), explained that unintended consequences may also emerge as a result of the EU’s recently imposed animal welfare regulations and other restrictions coming in 2013. While well-intended, he said, these measures do not always serve the best interests of animals or the public. He added that regulations can also distort competition if they are not uniformly applied and enforced.

As the focus turned to human health, FoodMinds co-founder Bill Layden encouraged participants to highlight the importance of animal protein in a healthy diet. He said this is made difficult by numerous studies and sustainability-based arguments that encourage reduced meat consumption. However, he said there is substantial scientific research countering these anti-meat claims. Layden emphasized the need to speak with a unified voice and to use key influencers to overcome negative perceptions about meat consumption.

Dr. Stuart Phillips, professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, followed with key scientific data that can be used to promote red meat consumption. His presentation highlighted the importance of sufficient protein in the diet of an aging population. For example, Dr. Phillips explained the important role of red meat protein – especially when consumed throughout the day and combined with regular exercise – in offsetting age-related muscle loss caused by sarcopenia. He also noted that contrary to public perception, beef consumption is not correlated with heart disease or high blood pressure. Dr. Phillips said the meat industry can play a critical role in feeding the world’s aging population, most of whom do not currently consume enough meat-based protein.

On Wednesday attendees heard from Michael Scuse, USDA under secretary for farm and foreign agricultural services. Scuse, who also operates a corn, soybean and wheat farm in Delaware, urged the audience to embrace science-based solutions to key issues affecting the world’s growing food production needs.

“A growing world population. An expanding middle class with rising demand for animal protein. A diminishing natural resource base. Changing climate. Mounting demand for energy,” he said. “Whether speaking as a policymaker or as a farmer, I have a clear and simple message for you: Embracing innovation and making decisions based on sound science is the only way we can confront these challenges.”

Scuse added that cultural preferences of some consumers shouldn’t impede access to safe and affordable foods for others, or limit the ability of their trading partners to export agricultural products. As an example, he highlighted the need for the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) to adopt a science-based policy on ractopamine residue levels when it meets next month in Rome.

“Right now, Codex faces a challenge from countries that seek to insert their narrow national interests and preferences into international standards,” Scuse explained. “An important test at the July meeting will be whether Codex can overcome the efforts of some to block adoption of a maximum residue level for ractopamine. Ractopamine has been judged safe in four evaluations by the independent body that provides scientific advice to Codex, and it is approved in 26 countries. It’s not a question of whether a country wants to use the animal drug. But rather, a question of whether non-science factors will be used to politicize the Codex process.”

“Codex is at a critical point,” Scuse cautioned. “It can continue to be the premier international science-based food standard setting body, or it could become a mechanism for members to advance their own economic interests and societal values that are not shared globally and are not within the scope and mandate of Codex.”