Portugal’s meat industry is in free-fall with more than a 30% drop in sales following the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) report highlighting cancer risks linked with eating processed and red meats.
The report – published six months ago – has had a “devastating” effect on the industry, leading to the “closure of factories and increase of unemployment levels” throughout Portugal.
“We expected a drop in sales after the WHO alert, but nothing quite so drastic,” said Marianela Lourenço from the national federation of meat retailers associations (FNACC).
Speaking to Dinheiro Vivo, she explained that the sales drop has “truly shaken the market” as more people are trying to limit their consumption of meat.
“We haven’t been able to pass on the message that everything is bad for you when consumed excessively,” Lourenço said, adding that eating moderate amounts “never hurt anybody”.
Things are so bleak that Lourenço says she “cannot see a bright future ahead”.
“A lot of meat industry workers are contacting FNACC to get a certificate of their skills so that they can try their luck abroad,” she said, adding it has been “several years since something like this happened to the sector”.
Lourenço added that in Coimbra and the Algarve alone, “over 50 companies that processed meat have closed down”.
Meantime, a meeting with the government has already been requested by Francisco Vasconcelos, the president of the association of meat retailers in the north (ACCN).
“A steak won’t kill you”
In November, several entities had already tried to calm the cancer concerns raised by WHO’s report.
The association of the Portuguese meat industry (APIC) said it was “inappropriate to attribute a higher cancer risk to just one factor (meats)” and added it was a “very complex matter that depends on many factors such as age, genetics, diet, environment and lifestyle”.
“It isn’t just a specific group of food that sets health risks, but a diet as a whole,” said the association.
Portugal’s general health directorate (DGS) has also tried calming concerns.
“Eating processed meat is not a problem as long as it is done in moderation and along with other food such as fruit and vegetables,” it said in a statement.
“It won’t be a steak that will give you cancer. Ideally, this kind of meat should be reduced to 500 grams per week, which represents around four to five meals of meat per week,” added Pedro Graça, the head of DGS’ healthy eating programme.