More than half of the world’s meat is sold on the NHS, according to research that has found the industry is also using the healthcare system to boost profits.
The report, released by the World Health Organisation (WHO), found the meat and dairy industry’s share of global meat consumption has doubled in the past five years, from 12.9 per cent in 2006 to 18.4 per cent last year.
While the meat sector accounted for nearly 40 per cent of global GDP, the report said it was increasingly using the health system to increase its profits, with almost half of meat and poultry products sold in the UK being supplied to NHS hospitals.
It found the number of hospital beds used for the industry rose by more than 400,000 between 2006 and 2014, and that over half of all meat and seafood produced in the world is sold in hospitals.
The study also found that the NHS has spent more than £1bn on the meat, dairy and egg industries, including the meat supply chain.
This is particularly important given the increasing prevalence of the H1N1 flu pandemic, which has seen an increase in infections among people aged 50-64, with the NHS currently experiencing the highest number of H1Ns.
The UK has a national supply chain for meat, with major supermarkets and supermarkets importing about 60 per cent.
The meat industry’s biggest export is pork, but there is also a range of other products such as poultry, eggs and cheese that are exported.
The WHO report said that although there has been a rise in the use of health-care services by the meat trade in the last decade, the meat export industry was also increasingly using this system to get around regulation.
“While the EU and US are currently the largest exporters of pork in the EU, the UK is also home to a large number of large producers of pork products such the Irish and Scottish pork companies,” the report found.
It said this included Irish, Welsh and Scottish producers, as well as the European producers from Spain, France, Italy and Belgium.
“In the UK, the most important producers are in the food service sector, where the UK’s meat and meat processing industry accounts for about half of exports and nearly 40,000 jobs,” the study said.
In some countries, including China, India and Indonesia, meat exports are being sold on to the NHS in order to reduce costs, the WHO said.
“The majority of meat is exported in the European Union, with more than half exported to the EU from Turkey and Morocco.
However, the majority of the EU meat exported to India and Pakistan is exported to health care facilities in the United Kingdom.”
The UK is not the only country where the meat food sector is using NHS systems to increase profits, it is estimated that the EU’s meat supply chains and the UK-based food service companies are also using this method.
However, the NHS is currently being criticised for its handling of the pandemic and the government has come under criticism for not investing in new food and farming techniques to cope with the pandemics.
Dr Sarah-Jane Lewis, the author of the report, said: “In many countries, like the UK and the US, the use and exploitation of food production by the food industry is seen as a public health issue, but this is not always the case.”
She said the NHS had not invested in new agricultural practices, nor in growing new crops.
“It has been seen as very, very risky and very inefficient, particularly in terms of climate change,” she said.
The research comes amid an increasing focus on the health of the UK meat and food industry, with a number of meat farmers, consumers and animal welfare organisations asking for the government to take a stronger stance on the industry.
Dr Lewis said that the UK had one of the lowest levels of disease-free animal production in the developed world.
“We are actually producing more meat than in the previous 100 years, and it is producing more than twice as much meat as in the 1930s,” she added.
“Our food supply is going to be changing, and our industry is going be changing with it.”
The Government has announced that it will spend £4.5bn on tackling food insecurity, which the report also said was an “urgent problem”.
“The food insecurity crisis has the potential to be the biggest economic and social crisis of our time,” it said.