What meat consumption has brought to the environment and how herbal diets can help human health

meat 2019 consumption

(Unsplash, 2019)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Ana Luíza Santos Rocha Pinto, a fourth year medical student at the State University of the Southwest of Bahia (UESB) in Vitória da Conquista, Brazil. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


From the earliest days of mankind, meat is considered as an important component of the human diet. However, the sustainability of meat production has been questioned in view of the negative consequences of livestock and agriculture for the environment and human health.1

In Brazil, approximately 56% of the water is used in agricultural activities², in addition to the fact that most of the national grain production is destined to the production of feed for animals and not to human consumption.³ In addition, the slaughter of a single pig requires the use of up to 12,000 liters of water, while that of a bovine can reach up to 25,000 liters. It should be remembered that, in Brazil, these numbers must be multiplied by the magnitude of billions.4

Another issue to be addressed is water pollution, due to the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the production of grains, besides the generation of products from slaughter, such as blood, fat, urine, feces, hormone impregnated, antibiotics, insecticides, fertilizers, agricultural pesticides, fecal coliforms, vectors of diseases – which makes it unsafe for consumption and generates public health problems. A single cow produces a quantity of waste equivalent to 16 humans.4 In addition, current meat production is responsible for a 14-22 per cent share of greenhouse gases produced in the world.5 For example, the production of a hamburger generates the same amount of gas as driving a car for approximately, 16km.6

Another important issue to be addressed is deforestation, since forests and animals raised for consumption compete for territory. In Brazil, about 200 million hectares is used by livestock, which corresponds to about a quarter of the territory – an area that continues to grow and generates an incessant deforestation.7 A proof of the environmental impact of meat production is the fact that the United Nations in 2010 recommended vegetarian and vegan diets in their report as an extremely important force to reduce environmental stress.5

In addition to the unquestionable negative human health consequences related to the environmental impact of meat consumption, scientific evidence demonstrates that there are benefits to human health related to a vegetarian / vegan diet. According to an American Heart Association study, in patients with coronary artery disease and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, a plant-based diet can act by reducing adverse markers for disease.8

Because vegan diets possess less saturated fat than omnivorous ones, it is associated with a better cardiometabolic risk, including lower LDL cholesterol, blood glucose, blood pressure, triglycerides, and body weight. This fact supports the evidence that these diets are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.9

In view of the above, it is concluded that society, including environmental and health organizations, must begin to see the need to reduce meat consumption by the population, since the growing increase in their production has overwhelmed the environment. In addition, its reduction has also been related to benefits to human health by numerous studies, since it is a protective factor, mainly cardiometabolic.

References

  1. Muchenje et al. Meat in a sustainable food system. S. Afr. J. Anim. Sci. 2018;48(5): 818-828.
  2. Instituto Socioambiental. Almanaque Brasil Socioambiental. 2. ed. São Paulo; 2010.
  3. Sociedade Vegetariana Brasileira (2007). Impactos sobre o meio ambiente do uso de animais para alimentação. [online publication]; 2007 [access on 14 Jan 2019]. Available in https://www.svb.org.br/livros/impactos-alimentacao.pdf
  4. Earthsave International (2006). Our Food Our Future. [online publication]; 2006 [access on 14 Jan 2019]. Available in http://www.earthsave.org/pdf/ofof2006.pdf
  5. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2010). Rome Declaration on World Food Security. [online publication]; 2010 [access on 14 Jan 2019]. Available in http://www.fao.org/docrep/003/w3613e/w3613e00.htm
  6. Fiala N. Efeito estufa dos hambúrgueres. Scientifican American Brasil. 2012; 82.
  7. Instituto Socioambiental. Almanaque Brasil Socioambiental. 2. ed. São Paulo; 2010.
  8. Shah B et al. Anti-Inflammatory Effects of a Vegan Diet Versus the American Heart Association-Recommended Diet in Coronary Artery Disease Trial. J Am Heart Assoc. 2018;7(23): 1-14.
  9. Benatar JR, Stewart RAH. Cardiometabolic risk factors in vegans; A metaanalysis of observational studies. PLoS ONE. 2018;13(12): 1-23.

About the author

Ana Luíza Santos Rocha Pinto is a fourth year medical student at the State University of the Southwest of Bahia (UESB) in Vitória da Conquista, Brazil. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA Brazil), working as the local president of IFMSA Brazil UESB. She has an interest in understanding how the external environment can influence the health of the human being. Therefore she seeks to study how the consumption of meat affects the environment and the health of the population, and tries to understand how social inequalities expose individuals to risk factors for diseases.

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