Children need to increase their consumption of leaner cuts of pork

safefood review reveals over half of the pork consumed on the island of Ireland is processed.

24 November, 2008. A review of the pork food chain on the island of Ireland has revealed that children need to increase their consumption of lean, fresh pork, as currently too much of their pork intake is from processed varieties.

The review undertaken by safefood also highlights that consumers have few concerns about the safety of pork and the industry enforcement controls that are in place.

Martin Higgins, Chief Executive, safefood commented: “It’s clear from the review that consumers need to increase their consumption of lean, fresh pork. While 85% of people on the island of Ireland eat pork products, more than half of the pork we eat is processed such as bacon, sausages and ham, which are almost always high in salt, and vary in their fat and meat content.”

Dr. Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition continued, “Children of primary school age in the Republic of Ireland (ROI) eat twice as much processed pork as they eat of lean pork. Just 22% of children aged 5-12 eat unprocessed pork, compared to 59% eating bacon and 65% eating sausages². Consumers can decrease their total fat and saturated fat intake and thus reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease by choosing leaner cuts more often.”

“The current dietary advice on island of Ireland supports the recommendations from the World Cancer Research Fund that high levels of red meat and processed meat consumption is linked to a number of cancers. However, due to the large consumption of processed pork products on the island of Ireland, we believe that a practical, achievable interim goal for many consumers would be to make a gradual reduction in their intake of processed meats.”  Dr. Foley Nolan added.

safefood advises parents to balance the amount of pork they eat by introducing more unprocessed pork into their children’s diet by using leaner cuts of fresh pork. For example, cooking pork stir fry with vegetables, or a pork mince bolognaise with peppers and pasta are both tasty meals and can help with lowering children’s intake of salt and saturated fat, while also increasing their consumption of vegetables at the same time.

Dr. Foley Nolan continued, “Pork is an excellent source of iron and, on average, has a lower total and saturated fat content than other red meats such as lamb or beef. Fresh pork is also a rich source of essential nutrients such as phosphorous, zinc, potassium, magnesium and the B vitamins. Pork should always be cooked thoroughly until there is no pink meat remaining and the juices run clear as eating raw or undercooked pork can pose a risk of food poisoning. Cross contamination of ready to eat foods with bacteria from raw pork or its juices can also pose a risk of infection.”

The safefood review found that consumers are confident in the safety and integrity of the pork supply chain, and any consumer concerns centred on the health implications of processed products on raised cholesterol and blood pressure. In response to health concerns regarding salt levels in foods, and more specifically a negative focus on processed meat products, the pork industry is moving to reduce the levels of salt in pork by 2010.

The review also highlighted the need to harmonise the approach to control of Salmonella in pork in Northern Ireland (NI) and ROI. The importance of an all island approach to control schemes to minimise incidence of Salmonella species in pigs is underlined by the fact that almost 40% of pigs slaughtered in NI originate in ROI.

This review is the final in a series by safefood which examines how food is produced, processed, sold and consumed on the island of Ireland and includes research into consumers’ awareness and perceptions of nutrition and food safety issues surrounding pork. Previous reviews have looked at the chicken, finfish, fruit and vegetable, beef and dairy food chains.


For further information please contact

Kate FitzGerald/Susie Cunningham Dermot Moriarty

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Editor’s Notes:
A Review of the Pork Food Chain; safefood (2007)
National Children’s Survey; Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance (2005)

Additional findings of the safefood review

In 2007 ROI pigmeat production was valued at €290 million at farm gate representing 5% of gross agricultural output and making it the third most important sector in agricultural output after beef and milk.

More pork meat per capita is consumed on the island of Ireland than any other meats including poultry, beef and mutton or lamb.

Sausages and sliced ham most commonly eaten on a daily basis but almost all meat and pork products were consumed once a week at least.

Focus group participants in ROI and NI cited convenience, taste, versatility, lack of food scares and value for money as strong positives in the purchase and consumption of pork.

According to the North South Ireland Food Consumption Survey (NSIFCS) in 2001 men in the Republic of Ireland consume 167 g/d and women consume 101 g/d of pork and processed pork meats.

Dietary saturated fat and salt are two of the major contributors to cardiovascular disease and processed pork products, such as sausages, bacon and ham, are a major source in the diet. Sodium intake, mainly through dietary salt is directly associated with increased blood pressure and cured and processed meats contribute to one fifth of current salt intake. A relatively modest reduction in salt intake has important beneficial effects on blood pressure which in turn can result in a decrease in stroke and coronary disease mortality.