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 a land size equivalent to China, the United States, Australia and the European Union combined. Not only would that allow for reforestation projects and support greener industries, but the remaining 25% of farmland would still support enough food for the entire world. 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 back 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. “[E]ven 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 3.5 kilograms of greenhouse gases for 100 grams of protein from tofu.
Have you ever been told to take a quick shower to save water and/or costs? 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? Producing just 0.4 kilograms of meat consumes almost the same amount of energy as a standard television for 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 1 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 an association 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; whilst 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 administrations 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 apparent 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. Others like Dr Alan Goldhamer, the founder of TrueNorth Health Centre, warn of the dangers of large concentrations 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”. In Australia, there are no laws whatsoever on how much pus content can be present in 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 significant contributors to calcium, this doesn’t mean they’re the only sources. 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. Other high protein sources include:
– hemp seeds;
– green peas;
– bread from sprouted grains;
– wild rice; and
– vegetables (broccolini, spinach, asparagus, corn etc).
It is without doubt, one of the greatest myths in the field of nutritional science, that vegan or vegetarian diets cannot obtain sufficient amounts of protein. 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 follow herbivorous diets and live prolonged lives.
We aren’t designed to eat meat:
Many people often recognise themselves as omnivores due to the fact 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 from side to side, whereas, omnivore jaws simply move up and down. Omnivores have far stronger stomach acids to digest animal flesh 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, humans are anatomically herbivores like our closest relatives. Dr William Roberts, a 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 cows & ethical standards:
There’s no doubt, that without meat destined for 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. Annually, 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 short life in undesirable, cruel conditions or simply cease to exist? This may seem like an extreme proposition, but less so when 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 socio-economic status.
In 2016, the Environmental Working Group revealed 6,500 factory farms in North Carolina, 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.”
Community members complain that factory farm 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. In San Joaquin Valley, California, 49% of the population is Latinx and 1 in 6 children have asthma which has been directly linked to an industrial 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.
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 the corruption, abuse, and defiance of the meat & dairy industry comes to light, it is time we stamp out these insidious practices. Climate change was once a joke, global equality was once a dream to few and cigarettes were once considered healthy.
Despite this, our understanding soon altered; it seems meat & dairy may soon reach this same fate.