Knowledge for better food systems

Red and processed meat, and human and planetary health

Photo: Oliver Hallmann, Steak, Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.0 generic.

In this editorial in the medical journal BMJ, professor of epidemiology John D. Potter discusses the mounting evidence that our current levels meat consumption harms human health and is equally bad for the planet.

The editorial presents evidence from two new papers in the BMJ showing an association between high intakes of red and processed meat and elevated total mortality and mortality from most major causes: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and hepatic, renal, and respiratory diseases. The only protective effect of eating red meat was on the risk of dying from Alzheimer’s disease, although the researchers said that it was difficult to draw conclusions from this finding because of the complicated relation between diet and dementia.

The author argues that despite the scientific agreement that overconsumption of meat is bad for both our health and the planet, and even though there is now robust research to underpin evidence based policy, there is still a serious lack of links between policy and action.

Below we include more information about the two papers.

The articles in this issue of the medical journal are:

Mortality from different causes associated with meat, heme iron, nitrates, and nitrites in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study: population based cohort study 
Published: 09 May 2017; BMJ 357 doi:10.1136/bmj.j1957

Red meat consumption is linked to higher risk of death from most major causes
Published: 10 May 2017; BMJ 357 doi:10.1136/bmj.j2241

The editorial’s discussion on sustainability related challenges associated with our meat consumption focuses on: depletion of aquifers; production of 37% of anthropogenic methane (with 23 times the global warming potential of CO2) and 65% of anthropogenic nitrous oxide (almost 300 times the potential of CO2); groundwater pollution; and 64% of anthropogenic ammonia emissions, which contribute significantly to acid rain and acidification of ecosystems. 

Read the editorial here.

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