MONTEVIDEO – Meat sellers in Uruguay, which has one of the world’s highest rates of beef consumption per capita, are defending the “natural ranching practices” in their industry after the World Health Organization warned of a possible connection between red meat and cancer.
“All these studies have been conducted on consumption in the United States or in First World countries, on their meats,” Hebert Falero, president of the Meat Sellers Union, told EFE. “There are no studies on Latin American meats.”
Almost all red meats produced in the United States come from cattle raised in corrals or covered pens under conditions that are not natural, while cattle in Uruguay are raised under open skies, without hormones, in a natural environment, Falero said.
This difference does not mean that Uruguayan meat is not associated with cancer, but firsthand experience provides a window into the issue, Falero said.
“If you visited the countryside many years ago, people were eating basically bovine and ovine meat, and they had long lives without problems,” the cattleman said.
On Monday, the WHO warned that eating processed meats, such as hot dogs, sausages and pre-cooked canned meals, may cause cancer in humans, and eating red meats “probably” causes cancer.
The study, conducted by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, was done by a team of 22 experts from 10 countries who found “sufficient evidence” that consumption of processed meats leads to colorectal cancer.
The experts found that “red meat is probably carcinogenic to humans, based on limited evidence that the consumption of red meat causes cancer in humans and strong mechanistic evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect.”
“We need to emphasize that most meat consumed in Uruguay comes from free-range cattle and is, without a doubt, much healthier than it might be in countries where cattle is basically raised in corrals,” German Möller, of the National Butchers Association, told EFE.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said in a 2014 report that Argentines led Latin America in consumption of meat, with 84.7 kilos (192.5 pounds) per capita annually, while Uruguay ranked second, with 82.9 kilos (182.5 pounds), and Chile ranked fourth with 72.5 kilograms (159.7 pounds).
Barbecue is one of Uruguay’s major traditions and families usually gather around the grill on weekends to enjoy different cuts of beef, sausages and chitterlings broiled on firewood.
Farming, livestock ranching and meat exports are key income earners for Uruguay.