The environmental impacts of meat & dairy:
According to the Science Journal, eliminating meat and dairy is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental footprint! If we were to stop consuming meat and dairy, we could save over 75% of farmland globally. For context, that’s as much land as all of China, the United States, Australia and the European Union combined! Not only would that allow for massive reforestation projects and support greener industries but the remaining 25% of farmland would still support enough food for the entire world. Meat and dairy contribute to 60% of all greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. As Joseph Poore (researcher at the University of Oxford) puts it, “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use”.
According to researchers, drastically cutting down or eliminating dairy and meat has far greater environmental benefits than purchasing electric cars, reducing air travel etc. The Guardian claims that beef raised on deforested land causes 12 times more greenhouse gas emissions and uses 50 times more land. Furthermore, “even the lowest impact beef [is] responsible for six times more greenhouse gases and 36 times more land [than the same amount of protein from peas].” Based on estimates by J. Poore and T. Nemecek, 105 kilograms of greenhouse gases are produced to source 100 grams of protein from beef compared to 100 grams of protein from tofu which produces a minor 3.5 kilograms. Not perfect, but 30 times better!
Have you ever been told to take a quick shower to save water or costs? Well, eating just 0.4 kilograms of meat consumes 100 showers’ worth of water!
Have you ever been told to flick off the light switch when leaving a room? Well, producing just 0.4 kilograms of meat consumes almost the same amount of energy as a standard television over an entire month!
Is meat healthy?
The WHO claims processed meats including ham, bacon, hot dogs (frankfurters), sausages, corned beef, canned meats and meat-based preparations and sauces, are classified as a group one carcinogen alongside asbestos and tobacco! The more commonly consumed red meats (beef, pork, veal, lamb, mutton etc) are classified as a group 2 carcinogen, meaning there is a connection between red meat consumption and cancer. Red meat consumption has been linked to prostate, colorectal and pancreatic cancer. Based on the WHO’s most recent estimates from the Global Burden of Disease Project (GBD), 34,000 cancer-related deaths occur every year from a diet high in processed meats. As for red meats, the estimation is around 50,000 possible deaths globally each year. Other potential health implications include diabetes and heart disease. The Cancer Council states, “when a chemical in red meat called haem is broken down in the gut, N-nitroso chemicals are formed and these have been found to damage the cells that line the bowel, which can lead to bowel cancer.” The Cancer Council as of recent years encourages “Cut[ing] out processed meats altogether or keep[ing] them to an absolute minimum”.
The Harvard School of Public Health has very similar views…
What about dairy?
Dr Milton Mills, a critical care physician, claims administration like the FDA place farmer profits over public health stating, “73% of African-Americans are lactose intolerant, 95% of Asians, roughly 70% of native Americans and about 53% of Hispanic Americans are lactose intolerant”. Yet, government administrations encourage the public to consume foods like dairy, despite the obvious health implications. Others like Dr Paul Porras, a pediatrician, suggests milk in particular, can have many health implications including acne, constipation, acid reflux, iron deficiency etc. Even organic milk has just as much galactose, cholesterol and saturated fat as conventional milk according to Dr Michael Gregor, a physician and author. Dr Alan Goldhamer, the founder of TrueNorth Health Centre, warns of the dangers of large quantities of pus (somatic cells) in dairy products. As of 2017, the FDA allows 750 million pus cells in every litre of milk, yet in Europe anything over 400 million is considered ‘unsafe for human consumption’. Whilst in Australia, there are no laws whatsoever on how much pus content can be within a litre of milk.
What about milk for strong bones?
According to a large Harvard study tracking 72,000 women for 20 years, there was no sufficient evidence that cow milk consumption prevents bone fractures and/or osteoporosis. Other sources like the National Library of Medicine claim, “Greater milk consumption during teenage years was not associated with a lower risk of hip fracture in older adults”.
Protein and calcium are found elsewhere:
According to the Guardian, meat and dairy products contribute to just 18% of daily calories and 37% of protein. Whilst some sources claim meat and dairy as ‘complete proteins’ and large contributors to calcium, this doesn’t mean they’re the only foods. Milk alternatives like soy milk provide great amounts of calcium according to WebMD. Soy milk is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids and is linked to a decrease in developing Alzheimer’s and dementia. Other alternatives like plant-based meats are considered high in protein by Healthline and contain nine essential amino acids. Not to forget tofu which is known to be very healthy, containing B vitamins, minerals, probiotics and is considered a ‘complete plant protein’. Other high protein sources include:
– hemp seeds;
– green peas;
– bread from sprouted grains;
– wild rice; and
– vegetables (broccolini, spinach, asparagus, corn etc).
People often restrain themselves from diets like vegetarianism and veganism over concerns around unbalanced diets, missing out on key elements like protein and/or concerns about becoming slim and weak. This is, at least according to many doctors and health experts, a myth. Humans’ closest relatives, chimpanzees, get 97% of their calories from plants alone. Furthermore, some of the strongest animals on earth like Gorillas, wildebeest, bison, rhinoceros and kangaroos, all eat solely plants and live long and healthy lives.
We aren’t designed to eat meat:
Many people often associate themselves as omnivores due to the observation that humans generally eat a variety of meats and plants. However, omnivores like bears have sharp, long teeth designed to rip through meats and flesh. Whereas, herbivore teeth are flat and designed to squash and grind plants. Herbivore jaws can move side to side, whereas, omnivore jaws can simply move up and down. Omnivores have far stronger stomach acids to digest meats as compared to herbivores that are considerably less acidic. Herbivores also have intestines 10 times their body length as compared to omnivores at only 3 times. In terms of physiology, our bodies clearly match herbivores just like our closest relatives. Dr William Roberts, professor at Baylor University states, “Human beings are not natural carnivores. When we kill animals to eat them, they end up killing us because their flesh—which contains cholesterol and saturated fat—was never intended for human beings who are natural herbivores.”
The future of cattle and ethical standards:
There’s no doubt, that without meat destined for our dinner plates, the population of animals like cows, chickens, pigs and sheep would greatly decline. However, whilst in existence, their lives were far from joyful. Each year, at least 400,000 calves are killed alone, these statistics are worse for cows and especially bulls. Placing ourselves in the hooves of farm animals, would we rather live a likely short life in undesirable and often cruel conditions or simply cease to exist? This may seem like an extreme question, but not when you realise 98.74% of American farm animals live in factory farms according to the USDA with male chicks, for example, thrown into plastic bags to suffocate.
Environmental racism or ‘environmental injustice’ is a practice that deeply affects the environment whilst impacting specific communities and/or groups. The environmental injustice movement spread throughout the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. Today, the meat and dairy industry has been caught out many times, strategically placing dairy and meat factories in communities of low socioeconomic status.
In 2016, the Environmental Working Group revealed 6,500 factory farms in North Carolina, massively affecting vulnerable communities. According to Naeema Muhammed, co-director of the North Carolina EJN, “They [industrial farmers] did it because they perceived the communities to have the least amount of political and economic power to fight them.” The population of pigs in North Carolina is greater than the human population, with black communities near factory farms witnessing a continuous increase in groundwater and air pollution. The Food Empowerment Project says people living near pig farms often “experience headaches, irritation to their eyes, noses, and throats, nosebleeds, breathing problems, and heart conditions along with a decline in the quality of life, a decrease in property value, and increased incidents of depression, tension, anger, confusion, and fatigue”.
Furthermore, community members complain that factory operators spray pig faeces into the air to dispose of the waste, ultimately affecting nearby neighbours. Mark Sobsey from the University of North Carolina says adult swine produce 10 times more faeces than adult humans! That’s a lot of spraying. In San Joaquin Valley, California, 49% of the population is Latinx and 1 in 6 children have asthma which has been directly linked to a massive dairy farm. Moreover, the rate of miscarriages within the area is twice the rate of most Californian towns and cities, with residents in nitrate-contaminated drinking regions paying an estimated 3 times more for water!
Its clear, the implications of meat and dairy consumption go well beyond the obvious environmental issues. Not only is the meat and dairy industry slaughtering the environment, sparking social inequality and defying ethical standards, but playing Russian roulette with our health. As our scientific understanding of climate change and health deepens, and our care for equality and animal welfare increases, meat and dairy ought to be a food of the past. Without a doubt, transitioning to an animal-free diet for many will be incredibly difficult but it’s within our best interest to ensure the planet, equality and human health remain at an absolute premium for generations to come. Years ago, climate change was seen as a joke, global equality was a dream to very few and cigarettes were considered healthy.
Despite all this, our understanding/views soon flipped, it seems meat and dairy may soon reach this same fate.