Meat eating is good for human health & livestock can be good for the environment

Below are a variety of research/study sources from around the world plus some well thought out personal opinion pieces that refute misinformation portrayed as truth by those intent on eradicating all meat from the menu. Please note more references are added to this blog post as they are discovered, and sometimes links to articles may be broken, however the original articles can often still be found via Google (so mentions are left as-is).

The bottomline is: follow the money trail, whenever you hear any organisation or business exhorting us to eat less meat – for whatever reason they care to wheel out. Invariably there’s a profit behind their motives.

Here’s some factual references on meat eating in relation to human health, and discussions on the ethical aspect of dietary choices:

  •  National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC, Australia) 2013 Dietary Guidelines. Page 3: “Most Australians need more….lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds and legumes/beans (except many Australian men would benefit from eating less red meat).” And page 21: 1-3 serves per day are recommended from this group; 455g lean, cooked* read meat is recommended per week; and children and young women may need to increase their intake. *Page 22; 65g cooked read meat is estimated to weigh 90-100g raw.
  • The internet is full of articles mentioning the prevalence of iron deficiency amongst Australians, particularly Australian women, and the significant effect this has on health.  For example this research and conclusions by Dr Amanda Patterson“Iron deficiency in women of childbearing age”; “From this research it is clear that women who suffer from iron deficiency experience major morbidity in terms of vitality, fatigue and general health and well-being.” And the Australian Medical Association: “Australian Clinicians leading iron deficiency research“; by Dr Bernard Froessler (SA), Professor Andrew Sindone (NSW), Associate Professor Al Khalafallah (Tasmania) and others. Comments on research findings to date:  “People with iron deficiency are at increased risk of chronic illness, heart failure, poor foetal development and reduced cognitive function and depression”; “Iron deficiency and iron anaemia were widespread and underdiagnosed in Australia” and “This condition is costing Australians and our economy millions of dollars each year, including in lost productivity, decreased educational performance, prolonged stays in hospital after surgery, increased morbidity and potential mortality.”
  • “20 Ways EAT Lancet’s Global Diet is Wrongfully Vilifying Meat” – Diana Rogers identifies & explains the misinformation spruiked in the  EAT Lancet Global Diet.
  • University of California (San Fransisco) study: Anaemia might raise risk of dementia“People who were anemic at the study’s start had a 41 percent higher risk of developing dementia than those without anemia after the researchers took into account factors such as age, race, sex and education.”
  • The Lancet; “Atherosclerosis across 4000 years of human history: the Horus study of four ancient populations”.  It’s popular in some circles to attribute heart & circulatory disease to modern diets and lifestyles. Proponents of veganism, particularly, push the idea that meat-eating is the root cause of circulatory system ills today.  However this research revealed a high incidence of atherosclerosis amongst ancient human remains from four regions: Egypt, Peru, SW America and the Aleutian Islands. Research conclusion summary: “atherosclerosis was common in pre-industrial populations including pre-agricultural hunter-gatherers” and it “raises the possibility of a more basic predisposition to the disease”.
  • The Telegraph (UK); ‘Red meat halves the risk of depression’ – Deakin University (Geelong) research.
  • “Vegetarians healthy but unhappy” would be more accurately titled “vegetarians more likely to suffer from mental illness”.   If you single out a group because they are making specific diet and/or exercise choices and compare them against the rest of society, which includes many who don’t give health any thought whatsoever (let alone effort), one would hope the physical and mental health of the specific group studied, would be far better than the average. This Alere study based on Roy Morgan Research indicates that while the average vegetarian is physically healthier than the average Australian, they are far more likely to be mentally unhealthy.   Similar physical health stats could presumably be obtained by comparing any other group who are singled out due to diet/excercise choices.  For example, adult bike riders or those who play competitive sport regularly.  And hopefully they’d be mentally as healthy as the average Australian, or better. In the case of Australian vegetarians, on the mental health front – they are 18% more likely to suffer from depression and 28% more likely to suffer panic attacks and anxiety disorders.
  • Alex Jamieson, well known American health counsellor:  “I’m not vegan any more”
  • Sophie Love, “How chickens changed my life…and the psychology of food”: Sophie was a committed vegan for more than 20 years; this is an unusually honest and thought-provoking blog on why she changed her mind.
  • George Monbiet, UK Guardian Newspaper “I was wrong about veganism”
  • “Study: 86% of vegetarians go back to eating meat”,  An American Study by the “Humane Research Council” discovered 86% of vegetarians and 70% of vegans resume meat eating. 2% of Americans say they are currently vegetarian or vegan but 10% say they have been at some point. The HRC concluded that it’s smarter for anti-meat eating organisations to promote a reduction in meat eating, rather than total abstinence. This seems to be old news; with anti-meat eating organisations already firmly entrenched in the two worldwide campaigns to steer people towards vegetarianism; “Meat Free Monday” and “Meat Free Week”.  There’s a few more details of the study results on the Psychology Today website, in a post written by anti-meat eater, Hal Herzog.
  • Jordan Younger describes what happened when she wrote about giving up veganism and suffering from orthorexia on her blog “The Blonde Vegan”.
  • The Atlantic newspaper “The healthiest people eat a moderate amount of red meat & poultry but as little processed meat as possible.”  This research has been widely reported in Australia and elsewhere and is often deliberately misquoted as ‘all meat eating is bad for you and can cause cancer’ when in fact it is specifically processed meat (salami, ham, bacon etc), containing particular substances, that has been implicated in negative health effects if consumed in large quantities. Extrapolating “all meat is bad for you” from “processed meat eaten in large quantities may be bad for human health” is akin to saying “fruit is bad for you” due to research showing increased rates of dental decay amongst fruit juice drinkers.
  • Joanna Blythman: “Why almost everything you’ve been told about unhealthy foods is wrong“; discussing the various ‘scientifically researched’ eating advice (eg don’t eat butter, eggs or meat), later debunked; and why healthy scepticism is thus advisable.
  • Zoe Harcombe, “WHO, meant and cancer”: “Nothing has changed from my fundamental belief that human beings should eat real food (especially grass-fed, naturally reared meat and naturally preserved meat). Avoid processed food, including meat processed by fake food companies.” An excellent analysis of erroneous conclusions by the World Health Organisation.
  • Anahad O’Connor, New York Times (via SMH): “All fat is bad? Not so fast” An interesting formal study comparing low fat vs low carbohydrate diets.  Those on the 12 month low carbohydrate diet lost more weight, gained more muscle, and were tested as being much healthier than those on the low fat diet.
  • Lierre Keith’s “The Vegetarian Myth” book & Lierre Keith  Interview on YouTube (USA).
  • “Meat – A Benign Extravagance”; info on the book by Simon Fairlie (UK) in ‘Permaculture’; and an interview with Rhys Southan
  • “A critique of the moral defense of vegetarianism” – a book by Andrew F Smith.  “…Smith explains that the linear way we currently view the food chain — the cow eats the grass, we eat the cow — is inaccurate. Instead, a cyclical view — the cow eats the grass, we eat the cow, the worms eat us, the grass eats the worms — is more accurate. In this sense, a person can’t be a vegetarian because even plants essentially eat animals.” And, “What matters more than whether we eat plants or animals is how we treat what-or who-will become our food.”
  • “Let them eat meat” blog by ‘ex vegan’ Rhys Southan; includes interviews with others who have given up veganism.
  • “My experience with vegetarianism“, by Chris Masterjohn ; discusses nutrition in great detail.
  • “The Steve Jobs Diet, Dr. Dean Ornish, and Vegetarian Cancer” by “Bulletproof Executive” Dave Asprey.  Vegans and vegan organisations such as Peta are fond of accusing animal products of causing human health ills, and collating lists of famous vegans. What they consistently fail to mention are the non-meat eaters whose health fails. This is a thought provoking blog post regarding Steve Job’s dietary choices which may have harmed his health.
  • “Can the world go vegan” by ex vegetarian (now conscientious omnivore), Taiss Quartapa.  This is the most logical and comprehensive analysis that I’ve read, discussing the environmental & health reasons commonly expounded by vegans & vegetarians, on why people should not eat meat.  Includes a detailed analysis of the oft-quoted erroneous beef production water usage figures, and in relation to crop growing.
  • “Meat lovers rejoice! Cows could be a climate change solution” by Mark Gunther.  Some interesting & witty comments below this article, too.
  • Interview of “Cows can save the planet” book author Judith Schwartz by Mark Gunther. Discussing how well managed livestock help raise environmental health.
  • “Lettuce produces more greenhouse gas emissions than bacon does” article in the Scientific American.  At long last, researchers are examining exactly how much energy is used and emissions created, by other kinds of food production (not just livestock).
  • “Not eating red meat won’t save the planet” article by long-term rural journalist Asa Wahlquist, pointing out the realities of Australian grasslands.
  • “Vegans – there’s blood on your hands” – blog post by Ted Nugent, pointing out the inevitable death of innumerable animals – large and small – in the production of crops.
  • “The picture of death” Excellent blog post explaining how ranchers view the death of the cattle they raise, and that death is a natural part of life.  Written by a Canadian ‘city girl turned rancher’.

Here’s some factual references regarding how well managed livestock improve soil health and the environment generally:

  • “‘Eat Less Meat’ ignores the role of animals in the ecosystem”, a ‘Civil Eat’s article by Aerial Greenwood. Excellent article; in summary – well managed livestock improve the environment, buy from careful livestock producers (quality rather than cheaply produced meat), and never forget that conservation costs money. “We have to pay for the world we want to live in.”
  • Polyface Farms website (Joel Salatin, USA).
  • Joel Salatin’s rebuttal of the New York Times article “The myth of Sustainable Meat” Excellent article; informative, logical and witty explanation of erroneous claims.  The public comments are well worth reading also.’
  • Alan SavorySavory Institute website; good grazing management can reverse desertification.
  • Resource Consulting Services  (Terry McCosker, Queensland).  Many Australian farmers have attended RCS courses and land condition improved as a result.
  • There is a large number of farmer and livestock producer groups on LinkedIn, especially in America, whose members discuss improved livestock and land management practices on a daily basis. There are too many of these groups to list!
  • “Vegan brings back cows”  A story about Northern NSW farmer Steve Dover’s realisation that removing livestock from his land had a deleterious effect, and that returning a well managed herd to his farm would improve the quality of the soil and environment generally.
  • There are also a number of permaculture/sustainable management groups on LinkedIn; also discussing improved food and fibre production and environmental health improvements daily.
  • There are a huge number of blogs now directly written by hands-on farmers in Australia; as well as Facebook groups and a huge and expanding network of rural residents on Twitter.  Ask An Aussie Farmer is an excellent Facebook page where agricultural questions can be asked and answered by hands-on people working in the farming and livestock industries.

Comments on the theorising of vegans:

The above sources have been produced by very thoughtful people; who know the complexities of their topic well.  I recommend anyone who remains sceptical after reading the above sources, arranges some genuinely open-minded visits to a range of Australian farms (including far northern cattle stations).  Anyone who does this would not just discover the amazing diversity of Australian agriculture but also, how much the average farmer loves the land and animals – and not just domestic pets and livestock; native animals and birds too.  The average farmer is a hands-on environmentalist. Unfortunately the vast majority of farmers are so used to taking this for granted, the positive environmental protection decisions made are rarely mentioned, let alone discussed publicly.  Caring about their environment is so fundamental to who they are and why they do what they do.

We all become blind to our own everyday environment. Most people who live in the bush, are struck by the level of pollution in cities, when visiting. From poor air and water quality, to rubbish lying around; and the lack of native birds (unsurprising, given the lack of native plants grown in most Australian cities).

It’s impossible for human existence to not have an impact on the lives of animals. The best way to minimise negative impact is to consume only a moderate amount of food, as sustainably produced and locally grown as possible, from as wide a range of food groups as possible.  To reduce waste and recycle as much as possible. And it’s vital to acknowledge that humans need protein to survive. If humans don’t consume protein by eating meat then this nutrient will instead have to come from other sources. That means crops. In order to efficiently & economically feed the large majority of the world’s population who now reside in cities, crops must be grown as large-acreage monocultures.  These monocultures are not environmentally friendly as they usually rely on outside inputs (rather than fertiler from livestock in rotation) and are devoid of native plants and animals, by necessity. Not only are all native animals displaced, native and feral invaders have to be dealt with, otherwise animals would eat all the crops and there would be nothing left for human consumption.  Thus someone who chooses to not eat livestock is relying more heavily on a form of agriculture that disadvantages or even actively dispenses with other types of animals.  This is a fundamental fact overlooked by the vast majority of vegans who claim to love animals. What they’re really doing is favouring a few types of animals over the vast majority.  It’s a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ – living in denial.

It’s also worth mentioning that even a very keen beef eater would be flat out eating 2 steers per year.

Something that continues to puzzle me – many vegetarians refuse to eat sustainably and ethically raised red meat, but will happily consume wild-caught fish – without having a clue as to whether it has come from a sustainably managed fishery, and whether much by-catch was involved.  Again, living in denial.

It’s also vital to understand the big differences between agriculture in different countries due to huge soil and climate variations. In Australia the majority of livestock are raised in large paddocks with native plants and animals in abundance – especially in northern Australia.  This differs from the UK, where in some areas inclement winter weather means housing animals is much better for the livestock and for soil/plant protection; and in the US, where there are many more large-scale feedlots and crops grown specifically for animal consumption.

Conservation & humane livestock production costs more. So ask where your food comes from, how it is produced, and be prepared to put your money where your mouth is to help farmers do the best job they can.

Ultimately – I’ll listen to the views of someone whose own backyard is full of native plants supporting native animal species who is living in as environmentally friendly fashion as possible. The number of vegans who have fully thought through their real impact on the planet is fairly close to zero. Most are simply paying lip service to fashionable propaganda that they’ve swallowed whole without understanding the big picture. As for those promoting the use of petrochemical products rather than sustainably produced natural fibres – please explain how helping to add to the world’s pollution is good for the animals you purport to care about!

PS: If you have any suggested additions to the above list, please let me know.  Originally written in 2013 & updated many times since (most recently, 2019).

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