Is meat killing us?

Malaysians are cham­pion car­ni­vores. But this ad­dic­tion is dam­ag­ing both our bod­ies and our planet.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Ecowatch - By MANGAI BALASEGARAM star2­ See also our Star2 story “Eat­ing beef is bad for Earth” – https://

HERE’S a trivia ques­tion: What is a lead­ing cause of both cli­mate change and the rise of su­per­bugs?

Which, oh, is also linked to “ocean dead zones”, bio­di­ver­sity loss, de­for­esta­tion, hu­man dis­eases and world hunger.

The an­swer? Meat.

Meat con­sump­tion and pro­duc­tion is at the heart of some of the most se­ri­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems to­day. The very fu­ture of our planet hinges on this is­sue. As the Bri­tish think­tank Chatham House ex­plains: “Re­duc­ing global meat con­sump­tion will be crit­i­cal to keep­ing global warm­ing be­low the ‘dan­ger level’ of two de­grees Cel­sius.”

The meat in­dus­try ac­counts for 15% of all green­house gas emis­sions which warm the planet, re­ports the United Na­tion’s Food and Agri­cul­tural Or­gan­i­sa­tion (FAO). That’s more than the emis­sions from all ve­hi­cles – on road, air or sea – com­bined. Cows and sheep pass meth­ane, which is 20 times more po­tent than car­bon diox­ide as a green­house gas.

One ef­fort to re­dress this is World No Meat Day, which was marked yes­ter­day by peo­ple around the planet skip­ping meat for a day.

It may be sur­pris­ing to know that Malaysians are the 10th big­gest meat-eaters (per per­son) in the world and sec­ond big­gest in Asi­aPa­cific. We Malaysians eat more meat than Ja­panese, Kore­ans or Sin­ga­pore­ans per per­son!

We may not be as rich as those other coun­tries, but we still eat as if we’re kings. In our coun­try’s past, meat was eaten far less, or only on sig­nif­i­cant oc­ca­sions.

The costs of cru­elty

We are also cham­pion chicken eaters. Malaysia’s chicken con­sump­tion has risen ten times from 3.46kg per per­son in 1960 to 34.3kg in 2005, stud­ies show. Ev­ery day, we eat an av­er­age of 1,800,000 chick­ens, 2016 govern­ment fig­ures show.

This takes a tremen­dous amount of re­sources be­cause chicken feed is not “chicken feed” – it is pri­mar­ily corn from Ar­gentina and Brazil and we spend RM3­bil per year im­port­ing it.

But there is another cost – to na­ture. Breed­ing an­i­mals for meat gob­bles up 70% of all agri­cul­tural land and a third of the world’s fresh wa­ter, ac­cord­ing to Wild Aid.

Beef in par­tic­u­lar re­quires the most land, at 30sq m to pro­duce one kilo while chicken and pork re­quire about 20sq m. In con­trast, it needs just 2sq m of land to pro­duce one kilo of fruits, pota­toes and veg­eta­bles.

Too of­ten around the world, land for those who can pay for meat gets a pri­orty over land for the poor to just sur­vive. For ex­am­ple, be­cause of our vo­ra­cious ap­petite for meat, many forests, in­clud­ing the Ama­zon, are cleared to rear cat­tle.

To en­sure high crop yields to feed an­i­mals, com­mer­cial farm­ers use fer­tilis­ers, pes­ti­cides, her­bi­cides and other chem­i­cals. When rain washes th­ese chem­i­cals into rivers, they be­come ma­jor pol­lu­tants, caus­ing bi­o­log­i­cally “dead zones” in seas, such as the Gulf of Mex­ico and China’s Bo­hai Sea.

This is what makes meat pro­duc­tion so un­sus­tain­able – we are us­ing most of our re­sources to feed an­i­mals while we’re run­ning short of land and wa­ter.

There is another cost of cru­elty too – con­di­tions in in­ten­sive an­i­mal farms are sim­ply hor­rific. Chick­ens are so fat they can barely stand and must have their beaks cut off to stop them peck­ing at each other in frus­tra­tion; preg­nant sows are kept in cages where they can’t move; and the young are sep­a­rated

from their moth­ers.

Dan­ger to our health

Cru­elty to an­i­mals hits us back in un­ex­pected ways.

The crowded, un­san­i­tary con­di­tions in fac­tory farms are rife with pathogens such as sal­mo­nella, campy­lobac­ter and lis­te­ria – and are ripe for po­ten­tial epi­demics, such as bird flu.

An­tibi­otics and growth hor­mones are given to pre­vent dis­eases and fat­ten the an­i­mals up – it may sur­prise you to know that most of the world’s an­tibi­otics are used in an­i­mals.

This an­tibi­otic del­uge has made bac­te­ria de­velop su­per re­sis­tance and we’re now reach­ing an “an­tibi­otics apoc­a­lypse” as “su­per­bugs” loom.

Stud­ies show th­ese su­per­bugs travel, in­clud­ing by wind and wa­ter, and stay on the skin of farm­work­ers for some time. Sa­ha­bat Alam Malaysia has al­ready warned: “There is a risk that cer­tain bac­te­ria might be­come re­sis­tant to all forms of an­tibi­otics.”

We end up un­know­ingly eat­ing a cock­tail of chem­i­cals such as growth hor­mones, an­tibi­otics and resid­ual pes­ti­cides and her­bi­cides plus am­mo­nia and ni­trites (used to process meat). All this ob­vi­ously raises risks to our health.

Much ev­i­dence links ex­cess meat con­sump­tion, par­tic­u­larly red meat and pro­cessed meat, with obe­sity, heart dis­ease, stroke, some can­cers and type 2 di­a­betes. Con­versely, di­ets high in veg­eta­bles, fruits and whole­grains (such as lentils, chick­peas or beans) pro­mote health.

An­i­mals which are treated more kindly as they graze nat­u­rally in green fields – rather than those fac­tory fed an un­nat­u­ral grain diet – pro­duce health­ier “or­ganic meat” (not yet widely avail­able in Malaysia).

But that doesn’t mean we should gorge on such free-range meats ei­ther. Reg­u­lar red meat in­take has been linked to dis­eases and pre­ma­ture death, as two decades-long stud­ies at the Har­vard School of Pub­lic Health have found. The re­searchers wryly said “healthy meat con­sump­tion” is an oxy­moron. And a study in the jour­nal Na­ture shows that one com­pound in red meat (called car­ni­tine) causes ar­te­rioscle­ro­sis, which leads to heart dis­ease.

Most of us gob­ble far too much meat – the World Can­cer Re­search Fund rec­om­mends a limit of 500g of meat a week (con­sider that a whole chicken weighs about 2kg).

Clearly then, even if we are not ready to be­come veg­e­tar­i­ans, the time has come to re­ally re­duce our meat in­take.

Happy World No Meat Day to ev­ery­one!

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An­i­mals which are treated more kindly pro­duce health­ier ‘or­ganic meat’.

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Smoke ris­ing from man-made for­est fires set to clear land for cat­tle or crops in the Ama­zon area of Brazil.


Care for chicken? Feather­less hens are crammed in­side a cage at a farm in west­ern France.

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