What’s So Bad About Too Much Meat?

What’s So Bad About Too Much Meat?

I know right?! What better time to talk about the pitfalls of a carnivore diet than at the height of grilling season. But before you fire up the coals and toss on a prehistoric sized slab of meat, hear me out. It’s bad but it’s not so bad that you’ll be running screaming to the closest Whole foods for tofu dogs and quinoa burgers (although you may want to work them into the rotation!).

Full disclosure…I am a vegetarian so I may have just the teeniest, tiniest bias which is why I’m not going to lecture anyone about the moral conundrum that is meat eating. Truth be told, I miss meat occasionally and never more than summertime when the aromas of other people’s wafting BBQ’s put to shame any veggie combo I can conjure up. Meat just smells good grilling…and don’t get me started on bacon. The bottom line is a meat heavy diet is not so good for our health and meat production can be tough on the planet. Even if you have no qualms about slaughtering Babe and his little barnyard pals (is my bias showing?) it’s worth knowing the pitfalls of excessive meat consumption and modifying your own and your children’s intake.

We’ve probably all seen some report or other about the problem of rampant antibiotic and hormone use in livestock in the United States. It’s the reason the US has been on the United Kingdoms “at risk” list for years and the reason the UK and other countries (including Russia, Japan and Australia) have occasionally imposed bans on import of all US beef. The major issue is a possible increase in antibiotic resistance in humans.

According to a New York Times editorial “small doses of antibiotics are regularly fed to factory farm animals to promote growth and offset the risks of overcrowding. What factory farms are really raising are antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which means that several classes of antibiotics no longer work the way they should in humans. We pay for cheap meat by sacrificing some of the most important drugs ever developed.” The American Medical Association and the World Health Organization have long objected to this unrestricted use of antibiotics but the F.D.A has up to now continued to bow to the pressure of powerful lobby groups.

Thankfully the rules are notably more stringent in Canada and while our animals are fed antibiotics, farmers and meat producers are subject to drug residue testing and if the animal is found to have antibiotics or hormones in its system, slaughter is postponed or forbidden. So while we can take some comfort in the often proudly mentioned differences between American-raised meat and Canadian, it’s still worth being a conscious consumer and may be worth the splurge for organic. That’s due to a “loophole” in the regulations that may weaken the government restrictions. According to the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association “the loophole allows Canadian farmers to import an estimated $100-million worth of drugs — including drugs not approved for use in Canada — from around the world” and feed it to their animals…the same ones that end up on Canadian plates. While these veterinary drugs are often necessary to treat sick animals, the reality is that just like in the U.S. some “antibiotics used by meat producers in Canada are given to healthy animals either to accelerate growth or as a prophylactic” and Canadian producers say it’s their only way to stay competitive with big American producers. Dr. Donald Low, chief microbiologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto thinks the government isn’t doing enough. “The concern about imports in agriculture is if the antimicrobial that’s being imported is going to confer resistance against agents used in humans?” And Michael Mulvey from the National Microbiology Laboratory for the Public Health Agency of Canada has warned that resistance is growing to key front-line drugs. Looks like organic, with its strict guidelines governing antibiotics and hormones is indeed the way to go when it comes to meat.

Beyond those broader issues, there are the known long-term health risks of a diet high in the saturated fat found in meat. In a decade long study 500,000-plus subjects were studied with respect to meat intake and overall health and the findings were impressive. The study showed that “other things being equal, the men and women who consumed the most red and processed meat were likely to die sooner, especially from one of our two leading killers, heart disease and cancer, than people who consumed much smaller amounts of these foods”. The results, extrapolated to all Americans in the age group studied, suggest that over the course of a decade, the deaths of one million men and perhaps half a million women could be prevented just by eating less red and processed meats.”

But wait, hidden in there is a little kernel of good news for the meat loving among us. Dr. Popkin of the University of North Carolina and other medical experts stress that this doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. By simply cutting back on red meat, choosing leaner cuts and making some meals vegetarian, people can reap huge health rewards and still enjoy the foods they want.

If you do want to go for the whole (vegan) enchilada, check out the book The China Study. Detailing a 20-year research Partnership between Cornell University, Oxford University and The Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, it produced “8000 statistically significant findings” on nutrition and health and it has some strong evidence for a primarily plant based diet.

If you prefer the “moderation in all things” approach, check out the website www.meatlessmondays.com for tips from this Johns Hopkins and Columbia University Schools of Health joint project to encourage schools, restaurants and individuals to try more veggie based meals. Even Gwyneth Paltrow’s culinary bestie and non-vegetarian chef, Mario Batali got behind this project recently when he was featured in an Environmental Working Group newsletter. He said, “In recent years I’ve become more aware of how much my food choices impact our planet. I was introduced to the Meatless Monday campaign and realized that eating a little less meat makes a big impact… if everyone in the U.S. skipped eating meat just one day a week for a year it would be like pulling 7.6 million cars off the road. At the same time, people – especially kids – would be less likely to develop health problems such as obesity and heart disease.” Also, try some of the meatless options to burgers and dogs…..honestly, kids will have a hard time telling the difference, especially when drenched in ketchup like everything else! And consider making the splurge for organic whenever possible.

So who wants a tofurkey burger? Anyone?……Anyone?…..Bueller?

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1 Comment

  1. Aviva Goldfarb
    August 02, 10:04 Reply

    Way to go, Kathy! I both we can both help people discover the joy of meatless meals, which are often better for people and the planet.

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