Sask. livestock producers brace for impact of WHO meat report

The World Health Organization report on the links between cancer and meat could affect the business of those in the livestock industry.

Expert says he expects the report to decrease the amount of red and processed meat purchased

Les Johnston has a farm near Fillmore, Sask. He hopes the recent report from the World Health Organization doesn't hurt his cattle business. (CBC)

Les Johnston runs his fourth generation family farm near Fillmore, Sask. He's downsized in recent years, preparing for retirement, but currently has 160 breeding female cows. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) report on the links between cancer and meat could affect his business and the business of others in the livestock industry.

The report released Monday says that eating processed meat increases the risk of cancer and that red meat may increase the risk of cancer.

"Any attack on your industry, it does bother us, and it is concerning," Johnston said. He added that being a beef farmer can be challenging. "It's disappointing that people want to continually coondemn us."

Demand for beef has already been dropping, according to Sylvain Charlebois, a professor at the University of Guelph Food Institute.

Cattle graze on Les Johnston's farm near Fillmore, Sask. (Angela Johnston/CBC)

"Thirty, 40 years ago the Canadian diet, or the Western diet, was actually quite simple," Charlebois said. "Nowadays consumers are more interested in different kinds of products coming from all over the world."

Those dietary changes include people looking for alternative sources of protein. Charlebois said if he was a pig or cattle farmer, he would be concerned.

Over time you may actually change the way you eat, change the way you prepare food at home.- Sylvain Charlebois, professor at the University of Guelph

"I would see this as a much larger threat than mad cow, swine flu, even climate change over the long term."

Charlebois said the report from the WHO appears to be sound, and that it could have an impact on what doctors tell their patients when it comes to health.

"Over time you may actually change the way you eat, change the way you prepare food at home."

with files from Angela Johnston


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?