Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1269, (5 - 11 November 2015)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1269, (5 - 11 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Not worried by meat

Egyptian consumers are not been fazed by the World Health Organisation’s recent report classifying processed meat as carcinogenic, reports Mona El-Fiqi

Not worried by meat
Not worried by meat
Al-Ahram Weekly

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organisation (WHO), issued a report last week saying that eating large amounts of burgers, salami, sausages and other processed meats could cause colon cancer.

The report explained that there is enough evidence to rank processed meat as a group-one carcinogen because of a causal link with colon cancer.

The study, compiled by 22 experts from ten countries, reported that the risk of getting cancer from eating processed meat remains small, but that this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed. Each 50-gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 per cent, according to the report.

The report triggered concern across Europe, officially placing cured and processed meat in the same category as alcohol, arsenic and tobacco. European governments and policy-makers are considering requiring processed meat manufactures to put warnings on their products that they may harm health. Such warnings currently appear on cigarettes. Manufacturers of processed meat have rejected the comparison.

The report appears to have had no impact on the processed meat industry in Egypt. Maher Abdel-Latif, sales manager at Faragello, the second-largest company making processed food in Egypt, said there has been “no notable impact” on the local market.

The company’s sales have remained at the same level, Abdel-Latif said. He added that in October his company saw record sales because of the start of the new school year. Processed meat sandwiches are a children’s favourite in their lunchboxes.

Demand for processed meat is also high because children and young people often prefer to eat fast-food products. Parents often respond to their children’s requests and cook their favourite dishes using processed meat, according to Abdel-Latif.

The market appears to ignore warnings that follow the release of scientific studies and research, he said. “Just check out the queues in front of the fast-food shops in food courts at the weekend,” he said.

The volume of sales of frozen processed meat showed an increase of five per cent in 2014 because of sharp increases in the price of fresh meat. The average price of a kilo of fresh meat is now between LE80 and LE120, causing consumers to shift from purchasing fresh meat products to processed meat products.

Despite a 15 per cent increase in the prices of processed meat products in 2014, they remain considerably more affordable than fresh meat.

Mohamed Wahba, head of the Meat Division at the Cairo Chamber of Commerce, said that the prices of processed meat products are affordable because they are manufactured with imported meat, which is cheaper by an average of LE35 to LE40 per kilo.

Wahba said that it is perfectly safe to use imported meat, which is inspected to ensure its quality by the ministries of health and agriculture before being permitted to enter the country. Experts expect that frozen processed meat will continue to sell given the high price of fresh meat.

Mohamed Abdel-Sabour, an export manager at Faragello, told Al-Ahram Weekly that there has been no negative impact on the company’s sales in export markets either, as consumers trust the quality of the company’s products.

The company’s factories are subject to strict health inspections on a daily basis and rigid quality-control procedures so that products are up to standard, he said. According to Abdel-Sabour, any problems that exist in this regard only affect smaller companies working in the informal sector.

He added that if a law was issued that obliges manufactures to put labels on their products saying they could harm human health, the company would comply. He added that Egyptian consumers “are not interested” in reading international reports and medical research, or even the expiry dates on product packages.

However, in response to the report, some consumers have decided to reduce the amount of meat they eat and processed meat in particular. “Nobody is telling people not to eat meat,” said Sahar Kamal, a teacher. “You can eat less of it and make sure you buy it from trustworthy sources.”

The message of the report is clear, said Alaa Mohamed, an engineer. “It’s clear we should not eat vast quantities of meat. We need to be aware of the dangers and to eat less,” he added.

Some consumers said they prefer to eat processed food and will continue to eat it, regardless of the report. “Processed meat sausages and burgers are my favourite foods,” said Tamer Tarek, a university student.

Low-income families also often have no choice but to eat processed meat and imported minced meat because the prices of these products are more affordable.

Hanan Ismael, a cleaner and the mother of three children, said, “I usually buy a pack of 20 burgers to feed my children for LE40 because I can’t afford to buy a kilo of fresh meat at LE90.”

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