The Meat Industry: friend or foe? Keerthana Balamurugan

Meat has been and still is a universal ingredient in numerous societies, not to mention a major part of many traditions, but recent studies have discovered that the consumption of meat is slowly decreasing. Those who have turned vegan or have been eating less meat in moderation have praised the fact that it reaps countless health benefits. Eating less meat has also proved its value towards our environment as problems once created by the meat industry diminish as it recedes. Counter-claims have also arisen declaring that the trend is damaging the multi-billion dollar meat industry and the economy. Where should we stand between the two sides?

Slowly replacing meat products with healthier options such as vegetables, whole grains and even seafood can alter your health immensely for the better. The WHO, World Health Organization, released a report last year linking the consumption of red meat with certain types of cancer and also stating that just by consuming up to 100 grams of meat daily, cancer risk can increase by up to 20%. This statistic jolted people into awareness of the set-backs. In certain countries, trying the vegan diet has become the new trend, with seemingly everyone raving about it on their social media, as people caught wind of how taking in less meat and replacing it with healthier alternatives can aid weight loss. Currently there are more people suffering from obesity than starvation and nutritionists are stating meat as one of the causes. From this aspect, consuming less meat would do us all a favour.

Even with such statistics that backs up claims of the positives of eating less meat, there are those who question this. If we remove meat from our diets what happens to our body with the decreased protein and iron intake? One of the most common disadvantages of not eating enough meat is iron deficiency which can drastically affect our immune systems and the speed at which our body functions. It cannot be disagreed that meat supplies us with a dense source of protein but studies from the Harvard School of Medicine proves that a healthy diet of leafy greens, mushrooms, legumes and other iron-rich plant foods can easily compensate for the nutrients meat provides us. It is simply a balancing act.

It comes as no surprise that the multi-billion dollar meat industry is damaging our ecosystem by tearing down acres and acres of woodland as well as increasing carbon emissions. Agricultural emissions alone account for 30 % of global emissions. Through the production of just 1 kg of beef, 15,000 litres of water is required and up to 30 kg of carbon dioxide is released which accounts to greenhouse gases. Now imagine this multiplied by thousands and thousands of kilograms of meat. Livestock production is the number one use of land by humankind meaning the largest deforestation contribution to our planet. In Brazil, their large-scale commercial beef farming is the cause of 70% of cleared forests in the Amazon. Precious water is being used up and wasted compared to vegan alternatives, ecosystems are being destroyed because of the land clearing and worsening climate change are all effects of the non-sustainable industry. Many would agree upon consuming less meat in order to try and lessen the harm that is being done to the planet.

In the U.S alone, the meat industry is worth more than 800 billion dollars annually, providing over 6 million jobs. Huge numbers of people see the colossal benefit towards cutting down on meat, but what would that mean to the economy, and to the millions of people who rely on it for their wages? Yes, it is true that the sudden economic shift from consuming less would affect a country’s gross domestic product as well as employment rates but only in the short term. Many protest against the cut-down on meat because of these reasons, so is the long-term effect worth the tremendous risk? There is a whole new type of industry that has been booming in the market and that is vegan alternatives. The relatively new category of food products has brought in a whole new economy to the table, providing more jobs for higher wages and with less grueling working conditions.

Consuming less meat has more benefits than drawbacks, leading to a much healthier lifestyle and a cleaner environment for our planet and its inhabitants. If everyone on the planet were to eat meat in moderation, we would have lower percentages of those suffering from obesity and certain types of cancer, not to mention the effects of climate change would be less severe. We live in the day and age where there are so many options available to replace meat in our diets and with just a change in mindset and perspective, many more people can get on board the change realising the environmental and health benefits towards eating less meat.

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