Eating Less Red Meat is Better for Human Health and Kinder to the Environment

Copyright (c) 2010 Alison Withers

We have known for some time in the developed world that diet, particularly meat and fast food consumption, coupled with the sedentary lifestyle that goes with urban living, work patterns and less active leisure activities involving TV and video games are far from healthy.

Now diets are changing towards the so-called “western” model of eating more meat and a more sedentary lifestyle in countries where affluence is rising, like China and India.

There are already indications that the rates of diabetes, heart disease and obesity are dramatically escalating, particularly in India as a result.

The WHO (World Health Organisation) estimates that diabetes, heart disease and strokes will together fost about £333.6 billion over the next 10 years in India alone.

Recent research by Oxford University commissioned by Friend of the Earth has also found that red meat can be linked to around 45,000 premature deaths in the UK annually and that it is strongly linked to bowel cancer,while meat and dairy products high in saturated fats contribute to obesity and heart disease.

Reducing meat consumption to perhaps three meals per week and choosing a more balanced diet, it says, could contribute significantly to reducing these deaths.

Rearing cattle has long been regarded as the most energy-inefficient form of food production, not only because of the acreage of land needed for each animal.

The increased demand, particularly for red meat, is also adding to the pressure on land resources and by extension on biodiversity as more rainforests are cleared, particularly in Brazil, to grow feed and rear cattle for export.

Put all this in the context of a recent WWF (World Wildlife Fund) report that found that the planet.s resources are being used at 1.5 times the rate that nature can replace them and the countless studies from the UN showing that more than a billion people on low incomes are either starving or malnourished and one has to question human priorities.

All this gives added weight to the urgency of tackling the loss of the world’s biodiversity, currently being discussed in Japan at a two-week UN biodiversity conference in Japan (October 2010).

It has been estimated that the loss of diversity is costing the global economy several trillion dollars a year and that if targets for conserving species’ life are not agreed soon the situation could soon become irreversible.

It is not being suggested that everyone gives up meat altogether, but it is in the interests of our health to reduce red meat consumption and to have a more balanced diet.

There are already techniques acailable for nesuring enough food for all without the need for more land. The jury may still be out regarding the advisability of genetic modification but other sustainable farming techniques already exist.

A raneg of low-chem agricultural products has been devised by biopesticides developers that are kinder to the environment. They include biopesticides and biofungicides as well as yield enhancers that allow farmers, large and small, to grow more on the same acreage without leaching all the goodness from the soil.

The problem lies with the powerful vested interests, the time it takes to get such products through the licensing procedure and their availabilty in terms of cost and training to small farmers, particularly in the developing world, who could arguably make best use of them.

The question is whether ethics and morality can outweigh the economic self interest of individual nations in grim global economic climate that is already showing signs of protectionism and arguments about currencies.