For many of us, meat is a staple part of our diet. In the industrial world we consume, on average, 80kg of meat per person each year. That’s over 200g per day! [1]

 

Meat provides us with valuable protein, vitamins A, B1, B12, nicamin, iron and zinc. However, recent studies strongly suggest that our high red meat consumption is seriously damaging our health.

 

Health impact from consuming red meat

 

Eating red meat (beef, pork and lamb) and processed red meat (hot dogs, bacon, sausages, deli meats) significantly increases our risk of dying from heart disease, colorectal cancer, and type ii diabetes.

 

A recent study of the National Institutes of Health-AARP, which included over half a million Americans, concluded that people who ate red and processed meats had a much higher mortality risk than those who consumed no red or processed meat.  

 

In fact, the overall increased risk of mortality for men and women who consumed red meat was 31%. The risk increased with the more red and processed meat that was eaten. In men who ate the most, the risk was 16% higher compared with those who ate the smallest quantities[2]

 

To summarise, the more red meat we eat, the sooner we are likely to die!

 

‘Well jeez, that’s a bit gloomy! What about white meat?’

 

 

What about other meat?

 

The same study, did not suggest any correlation between consuming white meat and mortality rate. In other words, eating poultry seems to be ok.

 

Except in the case of poultry, it’s not quite that simple…

 

Industrial meat farming

 

Almost all of the meat, dairy products, and eggs produced in the United States come from industrial food animal production. This means in a single ‘farm’ there are often tens or even hundreds of thousands of animals at any one time.

 

One of the problems with this, in relation to our health as meat consumers, is that the feed given to industrially bred animals is formulated to maximise production at the lowest cost.

 

This feed contains antibiotics (to help them put on weight quicker and prevent disease), drugs containing arsenic (which also increase animals’ weight and improve the colour of the flesh for consumption), and rendered animal carcasses. Yummy!

 

We end up consuming these things when we eat the animal they were fed to and risk to us as consumers could include our risk of developing chronic and fatal diseases, such as the frankly terrifying brain disease vCJD, and an increase in bacterial infections (more on that in a minute). [3]

 

Unfortunately but maybe understandably given who has how much to lose, testing for these animal feed substances in the meat and dairy we consume, as well as regulation around it, is inadequate. So we can’t fully know just how much ends up in our bodies and what other negative effects there might be.

 

Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria

 

One of the scariest risks from consuming industrially produced meat products is antibiotic resistant bacteria. As mentioned above, livestock are fed antibiotics to prevent the spread of bacteria. In industrial farming, this is essential since you have huge numbers of tightly packed animals, covered in each other’s waste and spreading diseases.

 

The first issue with this is explained in the infographic below:

 

 

But the issue is a bit more complicated than that.

 

80% of the antibiotics sold in the US are used in animals, not humans. But nearly two thirds of these are the same antibiotics used to treat humans. When bacteria becomes resistant to a particular antibiotic, that antibiotic becomes ineffective in treating humans infected by the bacteria (because bacteria can cross species).

This can lead to a further spread of bacteria within human populations, creating a breeding ground for antibiotic resistant bacteria. [4]

 

Environmental impact

 

The problems with industrial meat production are much larger than those that affect our personal health. The impact on the environment is catastrophic.

 

The meat industry has a major impact on global warming. Livestock production is responsible for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, including 9 percent of carbon dioxide and 37 percent of methane gas emissions worldwide. [5]

 

The transportation sector, like us driving cars, is responsible for 15% of global greenhouse emission.  

 

Methane has a 21 times worse impact on global warming than carbon dioxide, making it amongst the worst of the greenhouse gasses.

 

Meat free Monday infographic by gardein

 

But I need protein!

 

The average inactive woman needs 46g, and man 56g, of protein a day. The amount we need increases the more active we are.

 

But there are so many plant based foods containing protein, we don’t need to rely on meat. Here are a few of the best plant based sources of protein:

 

Soy products:

  • Tofu = 10g of protein per ½ cup serving
  • Edamame = 18g per 1 cup
  • Soy milk = 2g per ½ cup

 

Grains:

  • Quinoa = 8g of protein per 1 cup serving
  • Wild rice = 6.5g per 1 cup cooked
  • Steel cut oats =  10g per ½ cup

 

Vegetables:

  • Spinach = 5g of protein per 1 cup cooked
  • Sundried tomatoes = 6g per 1 cup
  • Peas = 8g per 1 cup

 

Legumes:

  • Beans = 14-20g of protein per 1 cup
  • Lentils = 18g per 1 cup
  • Chickpeas = 12g per 1 cup

 

That’s a lot of protein!

 

So, is eating meat really bad for us?

 

Mostly, yes. We would definitely benefit from seriously reducing our consumption of meat and dairy products.

 

When we do buy meat or dairy products, it would be better for us and the environment, to buy locally sourced produce from small farms wherever possible. Small farms generally use animal feed containing less of the nasties mentioned before and have a much smaller negative impact on environment.

 

So who’s up for a meat free Monday?

 

 

Leave a comment and let me know what you think of this topic! I’d love to hear from you!

 

[1] Chang, J. (2011). Meat Production and Consumption Continue to Grow | Vital Signs Online. [online] Vitalsigns.worldwatch.org. Available at: http://vitalsigns.worldwatch.org/vs-trend/meat-production-and-consumption-continue-grow-0 [Accessed 17 Jul. 2018].

[2] Battaglia Richi, E., Baumer, B., Conrad, B., Darioli, R., Schmid, A. and Keller, U. (2015). Health Risks Associated with Meat Consumption: A Review of Epidemiological Studies. International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research, 85(1-2), pp.70-78.

[3] Sapkota, A. R., Lefferts, L. Y., McKenzie, S., & Walker, P. (2007). What Do We Feed to Food-Production Animals? A Review of Animal Feed Ingredients and Their Potential Impacts on Human Health. Environmental Health Perspectives115(5), 663–670. http://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.9760

[4] Chang, Q., Wang, W., Regev-Yochay, G., Lipsitch, M., & Hanage, W. P. (2015). Antibiotics in agriculture and the risk to human health: how worried should we be? Evolutionary Applications8(3), 240–247. http://doi.org/10.1111/eva.12185

[5] Gerber, P.J., Steinfeld, H., Henderson, B., Mottet, A., Opio, C., Dijkman, J., Falcucci, A. & Tempio, G. (2013). Tackling climate change through livestock – A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome. P.15