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Prime Cut!

new internationalist
issue 215 - January 1991

Prime cut!
Gayle Hardy offers three
reasons for giving meat
and fish a miss.


EAT producers spend a lot of money telling you how much you need meat. They need to - because a growing body of medical evidence is stacked against them. Meat is not only unnecessary in a healthy diet but a hazardous extra. 1

So why do we eat it? Well, our ancestors probably turned to eating other animals about 2.5 million years BC, when the earth began drying out and the herbs and nuts on which most primates feed became less plentiful. The meat habit stuck, even though the cultivation of crops made it no longer necessary.2 The myth of meat as a food that makes you strong also stuck - although comparative tests prove the opposite.3

But meat does give you some extra things that a vegetarian diet does not so readily provide. It is high in cholesterol and saturated fats which harden the arteries and are a main cause of heart disease. People who eat meat have an average blood cholesterol level 20 per cent higher than those who don't eat it.4

Several forms of cancer such as that of the colon, breast, uterus and prostate are linked with meat-eating. Modem meat contains a number of carcinogens including nitrites used in processing and residues of antibiotics routinely used in factory farming. People on a vegetarian diet have 75 per cent fewer carcinogens in their bodies and their cancer rate is 30 per cent lower.4,5

Most cases of food poisoning can be traced back to meat. Poultry meat is responsible for about 50 per cent of reported cases of salmonella poisoning and red meat is responsible for a further 20 per cent in the UK. As much as 80 per cent of oven-ready chicken is contaminated with salmonella which may or may not be killed in the cooking.6 Campylobacter, the main cause of enteritis in humans, is also linked with poultry, while meat-related listeria poisoning is on the increase. It has been suggested that a piece of raw meat should be treated with the same degree of care in the kitchen as a piece of raw sewage.

Fish is not much healthier. Thanks to pollution of the world's seas, methyl mercury poisoning and hepatitis are becoming increasingly common in fish-eaters. Factory-farmed fish is risky too. A highly toxic chemical called Aguaguard is routinely used to remove parasitic sea-lice and in the UK salmon are dyed pink with canthanxanthin - banned in the US as a cancer-forming agent.7

Doctors have noted an increase in immunity to antibiotics amongst their meat-eating patients and suspect that the heavy use of antibiotics in factory farming may be to blame.8 Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico and Italy young children (some as young as six months) started developing breasts after eating meat which had been injected with the growth-promoter DES.2



OST of the rich world's meat - and an increasing amount of the world's fish - is now produced in factory-farms.

Here are just a few of the most common methods used to bring your pork, beef, fish or fowl to the supermarket shelves and butchers' hooks.

. Sow stalls: After having been 'served' on a 'rape rack' the female pig is tethered in a metal-barred stall where she is unable to take more than one step backward or one step forward during her entire pregnancy. She is denied not only exercise but light, fresh air and companionship. By nature scrupulously clean she is forced to lie in her own excreta. She gives birth on a perforated metal floor. Her piglets are ripped away from her at two weeks - naturally they would have been weaned at two months. Five days later she is taken out and put on the rape rack where the cycle begins again.

. Poultry batteries: Kept in a dismal shed consisting of row upon row of wire cages, the battery chicken may never see daylight until it is taken for slaughter. Egg-laying hens are crammed into a tiny cage measuring only 45 by 50 centimetres. Their feet are deformed by the sloping wire mesh floor. Even eating causes pain as feathers are rubbed away in attempts to reach the automatic feeder. Overcrowding and intense boredom and disease lead to aggression, cannibalism and neurotic disorders including self-mutilation. Farmers guillotine the tops of their beaks to stop hens pecking each other to death.

. Fish farms: Fish are kept in cramped underwater cages and fed fish pellets containing antibiotics. Before they are bled to death they are starved for several weeks, because it is less messy to gut a starved fish. About 20 per cent die from afflictions such as skin ulcerations, bacterial kidney infections and cancerous tumours.7



T is estimated that on a vegetarian diet the world could support a population six times greater than its current 5.3 billion.9 If each Westerner cut their meat intake by just 50 per cent it would save enough food to feed two people who would otherwise starve.2

Meat production exacts its toll in ecological damage. The ranching of cattle in the worlds's rainforests is especially destructive. Each beefburger costs 55 square feet of rainforest to produce - that is half a tonne in weight of birds, trees and saplings. This contributes to global warming - as does the 60 million metric tonnes of methane, produced from the guts of the world's 1.5 billion cows. Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas.

Meanwhile, factory farming produces vast amounts of highly polluting animal sewage. Cattle and pig sewage is 20-40 times more potent than the human variety - and cattle produce nine gallons of the stuff per day. But in spite of this, raw sewage from farm animals is spread over fields to eventually find its way into streams, rivers and water supplies.10

If you still feel like eating meat after reading this you might consider reducing the amount you eat - and opt to buy free-range or organically grown varieties.

1 National Advisory Committee on Nutrition Education, UK
2 Why You Don't Need Meat, Peter Cos (Thorsons, 1986)
3 The Yale Medical Journal 13, No 5, The influence of flesh-eating on endurance' by Irving Fisher.
4 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1989 50)
5 Diet, Nutrition and Health, British Medical Association (1986).
6 Central Public Health Laboratory quoted in CIWE leaflet Consumer Alert (Broiler Chicken) (1989).
7 Pesticides, Chemicals and Health, British Medical Association (1990)
8 Pandora's Lunchbox Channel Four TV (1990)
9 State of World Population, UNFPA (1990)
10 Animal Aid, UK.

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New Internationalist issue 215 magazine cover This article is from the January 1991 issue of New Internationalist.
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