A report published this week by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization, cautions that eating meat daily can contribute to obesity, heart disease and cancer.
“Although this issue has been reported on for a long time, Americans continue to have really high rates of meat consumption, particularly children,” said Kari Hamerschlag, senior analyst at EWG and author of the new report. “As a country, we’re producing and consuming 60 percent more meat per person than Europeans.”
For the study, EWG looked at the environmental impact of production, processing, transportation, cooking and waste of meat. Nearly 20 percent of edible meat ends up in landfills while millions of people go to bed hungry. The conclusion of the study is that people should eat less meat and dairy. In particular, the EWG points to lamb, beef, pork, cheese and farmed salmon as the protein-packed foods that take the largest toll on the environment.
The high rate of meat eaters in the United States is known to have significant detrimental effects on human health. Increases rates of heart disease, cancer and obesity have been linked to heavy meat eating. Eating significant amounts of meat also harm the environment, releasing greenhouse gases in the air.
“We’re not advocating that people stop eating meat and cheese, we’re just suggesting that people consider eating less,” said Hamerschlag. “Ultimately, we need better policies and stronger regulations to reduce the environmental impacts of livestock production. But personal shifting of diets is an important step.”
The report points out that minor changes can have a significant impact on the environment. If each American cut meat and cheese from their diet one day a week, it would be the equivalence to taking 7.6 million cars off the road. “The world is better off with than without cattle,” said Gidon Eschel, a professor of climate physics at Bard College in New York, who was not involved in the new report. He explained that optimal land use includes predominantly plants — “foods that feed people directly rather than indirectly through animals.” But cattle, he added, are key for cycling the nutrients in the soil and maintaining long-term crop fertility.
Production for the feed of cattle takes up nearly 150 million acres of U.S. land. “Even if you don’t directly clear land to grow feed crops, you are using land that could otherwise go to other purposes like food or biofuels. Somewhere forest or grassland will be cleared and carbon will be released into the atmosphere,” added Simon Donner, a climate and agriculture expert at the University of British Columbia in Canada, who was not involved in the report.
Although typical carnivores hate to hear about studies and data like this, the fact is that Americans eat way too much meat. The world is unsustainable as it is and we have to change things in order to continue to exist. With so many soy-based meat alternatives, there is no reason why meat must be consumed every single day. And there are plenty of reasons why you shouldn’t eat meat every day.