• Do carnivores the world over just give up on the glorious tastes of meat and the various nutrients it offers like protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B12? (Alan Benson)
A recent scientific review shows that rising global meat consumption may be damaging our health and the environment. We ask what this means for die-hard carnivores.
By
Yasmin Noone

31 Jul 2018 - 11:45 AM  UPDATED 26 Sep 2018 - 12:38 PM

Being a carnivore has never been so popular. A new review, published in Science this month, estimates that the consumption of meat, per capita across the globe, is rising. 

This global meat-eating trend is also expected to ramp up over time, as the world's population increases and people in various low income countries become wealthier.   

The authors predict that this steep rise in meat consumption could negatively impact our health, increase carbon emissions and reduce biodiversity.

This global meat-eating trend is also expected to ramp up over time, as the world's population increases and people in various low income countries become wealthier.   

According to the University of Oxford review, the total consumption of meat worldwide has gone from around seven million metric tons in 1960 to around 30 million metric tons in 2010. 

We’re also eating more chicken and pork across the globe. 

The review shows the steepest increase in meat consumption is in China with demand rising from about one million metric tons in 1970 to over eight million metric tons in 2010.

The demand for meat from Europe is also quite high, although demand has always been strong. In 1970, consumption sat at around four million metric tons, rising to a peak of over six million in 1990 demand before falling just below six million in 2010.

The authors suggest that India has the lowest meat consumption levels worldwide, followed by Africa.

North America consumed over four million metric tons in 2010, while the rest of the world consumed about five million metric tons in 2010.

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The downsides to eating meat

Greater meat consumption may not be a good thing. The authors argue that eating more meat and meat products could have a detrimental impact on our health.

“Although meat is a concentrated source of nutrients for low-income families, it also enhances the risks of chronic ill health, such as from colorectal cancer and cardiovascular disease,” the review reads.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that although evidence red meat consumption has been linked to colorectal cancer, there is no proof of a cause and effect relationship. 

However, in 2015 the WHO warned against people eating too much processed meat (like bacon and salami) on a regular basis because, if consumed in excess, it may be carcinogenic. According to estimates done by Global Burden of Disease Project, about 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide are attributable to diets high in processed meat.

The Science review also identifies that meat is a potential source of food-borne infections. “Furthermore, antibiotics are used widely in meat production, both as veterinary medicines and as growth promoters," the review reads. "There is serious concern that genes for antibiotic resistance may be selected in agricultural settings and then transferred to human pathogens.”

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There's no need to change your carnivore status, just yet

So what now? Do carnivores the world over just give up on the glorious tastes of meat and the various nutrients it offers like protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B12?

The authors believe that people should start to change their diet and cut back on the amount of meat consumed.

Meanwhile, principal research scientist for CSIRO Agriculture and Food, Bradley Ridoutt, says the authors miss the mark with their recommendations. Ridoutt explains that instead of cutting back on meat consumption to save the planet and our health, we should limit the amount of junk food we eat.

“Overlooked is the importance of reducing the intake of discretionary foods to improve diet quality and reduce environmental impacts,” says Ridoutt.

“Discretionary foods, which are energy rich and nutrient poor, come in many different forms. They include sugar-sweetened beverages, beer and wine, dairy desserts, processed meats, biscuits, cakes and pastries, fried hot potato chips, salted snacks, jam, honey, confectionery, and many others.”

“Overlooked is the importance of reducing the intake of discretionary foods to improve diet quality and reduce environmental impacts."

Ridoutt adds that the Australian Dietary Guidelines suggest that some children and young women may benefit from the additional nutrients associated with an increase in lean red meat consumption.

Spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, Simone Austin, does not recommend that people give up meat entirely to improve their health.

“When you turn to a plant-based diet, it doesn’t automatically make you healthy,” says Austin, an Accredited Practising Dietitian. “You could end up having white bread, white rice, fried potatoes: the diet you may switch to is vegetarian or vegan but it may be less healthy overall.”

“We don’t know exactly how much meat Australians are eating but we believe some people are eating meals where more than half of their plate is covered by meat."

But, says Austin, eating less meat might be a healthy move, if you replace a proportion of meat with whole grains and vegetables, as part of a balanced diet. 

In Australia, it’s recommended that we consume no more than 450 grams of meat in one week. That’s equal to around 100 grams of raw meat or 65 grams of cooked meat, seven times a week.

“We don’t know exactly how much meat Australians are eating but we believe some people are eating meals where more than half of their plate is covered by meat.

“If that’s the case, not only are you eating too much meat in general, but you’re probably not having enough vegetables anyway.”

Austin advises that people could make more sustainable, healthy food choices by eating more vegetables in season, consuming food produced locally, using more of an animal for cooking (nose-to-tail eating which includes dishes like offal and sweetbreads) and cutting back on food waste.

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