Top nutritionist says SA must prioritise meat consumption

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Renowned nutritionist, Prof Hettie Schönfeldt, says that South Africans generally need to consume more animal products due to significant differences in local dietary deficiencies compared to those faced by citizens in first-world countries.

She made the remarks during the South African Pork Producers (SAPPO)’s recent Baconer’s Brunch which was held in Pretoria.   

“Particularly in our environment, where we have a triple burden of disease. This means that consumers are generally eating a diet that’s too high in fat, sugar and salt and we see an extremely early onset of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. This is entirely preventable through a healthy, balanced diet.”

Prof Schönfeldt is a professor at the Department of Animal Science in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Pretoria and was recently also appointed to the High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security. She is the only appointment from South Africa.

Diet deficiencies

“From a human nutrition perspective, it is important to note that we should not compare ourselves to European countries and America. South African consumers are not consuming the same diets that they are. In South Africa, approximately 70% of the female population is either overweight or obese. About 40% of men fall in the same category. It is not because we consume too much meat,” Prof Schönfeldt said. She added that the argument changed dramatically in Europe where people consume vast amounts of animal protein.

She added that South African consumers’ diets tend to be deficient in numerous nutrients, such as Vitamin A, iron, zinc and iodine. “Our elderly population, even as young as 50, are particularly prone to protein deficiencies.”

Prof Schönfeldt expresses concern regarding the growing popularity of vegan diets. Vitamin B12 and B6 are crucial nutrients that can only be obtained through animal protein consumption. “You will have to either get a Vitamin B12 injection or take supplements as a vegan. It is also very difficult to obtain sufficient Vitamin B6 from a vegan diet.”

Read the first quarterly pork industry report for 2024 here.

Pork industry progress

In the end, consuming plant-source foods with animal protein made the protein in the plants more bioavailable. Prof Schönfeldt added that decades ago there were certain health concerns regarding diseases in pork, but the industry has stepped up to address these issues through genetics and biosecurity measures.

Dr Tracy Davids, commodity markets and foresight analyst at the Bureau of Food and Agricultural Policy, agreed with Prof Schönfeldt. “In terms of traceability, biosecurity and the management of its carbon footprint, the pork industry is lightyears ahead of other livestock industries, despite being the smallest.”

SAPPO chairperson, Stephen Butt, stated that one of the key drivers propelling South Africa’s pork industry into the future is the strides made in pig genetics. When global genetic players entered the market in the 1980s and 1990s, it was a game changer. “Genetics brought about more efficiencies,” Butt added that SAPPO’s systems were world-class, even though the pork industry was relatively small.

Marketing diversification

From a marketing perspective, a lot has also been done to develop pork as a diverse food. Gerard Braak, a former chairperson of SAPPO, said while there was in some ways greater market transparency during the meat board days, the reality was that the types of pork that were marketed were largely restricted to products such as bacon and sausages. There was no room for any new players to enter the market.

Brent Fairlie, CEO of Lynca Meats, said when they started Lynca Meats in the 1980s, the market situation limited them to slaughtering pigs and packaging the cuts into boxes as the competition cornered the markets with bacon and sausage products. They needed to find a way to add value and through hard work, they were able to expand to the township market, a non-traditional pork market.

Despite economic difficulties, SAPPO remains optimistic when it comes to the future of its product. – Susan Marais, AgriOrbit