Why Canadians are already cutting back on red meat

Canadians are already dialing back on how much beef they consume, a new report suggests, but it’s not for health reasons as much as for financial ones as red meat prices have soared.

According to fresh survey results from the University of Guelph’s Food Institute, 38 per cent of Canadian respondents to the poll said they had reduced or stopped eating beef in the last 12 months.

“Such a percentage seems high—much higher than expected,” the study said. The study didn’t specify the degree to which or amount respondents cut back by.

But the prime culprit was price, followed by health concerns. Ethical and environmental considerations were also cited by respondents but less so.

“Prices seem to have had a significant impact on purchase intentions, but so has health and food safety,” the report’s lead researcher, Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, said. “‘Altruistic’ determinants are not as significant.”

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Sixty-two per cent of those polled by the university’s food researcher said rising costs forced them to curb how much beef they consume. About four in ten who said they’ve cut down also did so for health reasons.

About a quarter said they reduced consumption because of ethical and environmental reasons – a “still statistically significant” number given the timeframe, the report said.

‘Prices seem to have had a significant impact on purchase intentions, but so has health and food safety’

The southwestern Ontario-based university released its data the same day the World Health Organization declared red meat – which includes beef, pork and lamb under its definition – as “probably” carcinogenic. Following an exhaustive review of worldwide research on the link between meat consumption and cancer, the world health body also said there was an even clearer connection between processed meat and colorectal cancers.


MORE: Processed meat linked to cancer, red meat risky too

“For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal (bowel) cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed,” Dr. Kurt Straif  of France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the WHO, said in a statement.

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Red meat, under which the IARC includes beef, lamb and pork, was classified as a “probable” carcinogen in its group 2A list that also contains glyphosate, the active ingredient in many weedkillers.

Higher prices

North American beef prices (and to a lesser extent pork) have shot sharply higher over the past couple of years amid a shortage of supply. Droughts dating back to 2012 severely depleted North American cattle herds, experts say, while the PED virus was responsible for destroying hog numbers in the United States two winters ago.

MORE: The ‘new reality’ for meat lovers — sticker shock

The average price for a sirloin steak found at a Canadian grocery store was nearly 25 per cent higher in May compared to the same month in 2014, according to Statistics Canada.

Herd numbers are rebounding, meat industry experts say, which should benefit prices at supermarkets.

The University of Guelph survey was conducted with 504 respondants aged 18 or older, across the country earlier this month. If found 83.4 per cent of those polled consumed beef at least once a week, while 16.6 per cent “rarely” consumed beef.

“The majority of respondants consume beef at least once a week,” the study said.

The findings were preliminary with a fuller report scheduled to be published later this year, Dr. Charlebois said.

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WATCH: A Global News/Ipsos poll found that most Canadians are now buying food at the grocery store based on price over taste and freshness.

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