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As the horse meat scandal continues to worsen, with as much as 100 per cent of undeclared horse meat found in products sold as beef, we ask if there are any merits to a meat based diet.

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The issue came to light on January 15 when it was reported that horse DNA had been discovered in frozen beefburgers sold at several British and Irish supermarkets.

Here Maureen Strong, nutrition manager at EBLEX, the organisation for the English beef and sheep industry, defends meat while Su Taylor, head of communication at the The Vegetarian Society, argues against eating meat.

Maureen Strong, nutrition manager at EBLEX said: “Red meat can play a vital role in human nutrition throughout life. This has been confirmed in a new study. Experts reviewed the science on red meat and nutrition and published a peer-reviewed paper – Micronutrient challenges across the age spectrum: is there a role for red meat in the diet?

The researchers say that including red meat as part of your diet, whatever your age, can help bridge the gap between recommended intakes of essential vitamins and minerals, and the current lower intakes of key nutrients that often occurs in certain ‘at risk’ groups in the population.

Meat has long played a central role in the human diet and is recognised as an important source of high quality protein and essential micronutrients. The research indicates that even in developed countries such as the UK, with a plentiful food supply, there is evidence of under-consumption of key vitamins and minerals which support long-term health.

Many of these are present in red meat, such as iron, vitamins A and D, selenium, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.

Integrating red meat into diets across the age spectrum, from infanthood to old age, may help to narrow the present gap between intakes and recommendations.

There is emerging evidence that nutrients commonly found in red meat may play a role in supporting cognitive function, immune health, and addressing iron deficiency anaemia. Moderate amounts of lean red meat provide a range of important nutrients, without substantially increasing intakes of energy and fat.

Consumed in moderate amounts as part of a balanced diet, lean meat is unlikely to increase the risk of chronic disease, yet provides an important source of key nutrients.”

Su Taylor, head of communication at the The Vegetarian Society, said: “The largest study ever conducted in the UK comparing rates of heart disease between vegetarians and non-vegetarians has found that vegetarianism can reduce the risk of heart disease by up to a third.

We know that vegetarians have lower rates of obesity, diabetes and many cancers, but this study shows that being vegetarian is, regardless of other factors, simply better for your heart.

But it’s not just people who benefit from a vegetarian diet. Millions around the world believe it is wrong for animals to suffer and die, just so they can be turned into food.

The UK is said to be a nation of animal lovers, but more than two-and-a-half million farm animals are killed here every day just to satisfy the population’s taste for meat.

Meat eaters in the UK and Ireland were shocked to learn that horse meat had been found in a number of beefburgers sold in supermarkets, but many vegetarians wondered what all the fuss was about.Food provenance is an important issue for vegetarians, of course, and no food should be sold with ingredients that do not appear on the label, but this particular case begs the bigger question – why do most of the UK population believe it is OK to eat cattle but not horses?

Going vegetarian is one of the easiest ways to reduce your environmental impact. Livestock farming has a detrimental effect on the natural world and it’s not necessary. By swapping meat and fish for a plant-based diet you will reduce your carbon footprint, save land, save water, and protect the oceans.

A balanced vegetarian diet is a healthy choice, it’s also a great choice if you love food and one of the cheapest ways to eat well. Whatever your reasons, going – and staying – vegetarian is a positive life choice.

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