Red meat is defined as meat that is dark in colour when raw. Examples are beef, pork and lamb or their derivatives: steak, hamburger, pork chops and lamb chops or their processed forms: ham, bacon, sausage etc. Cattle have been taken advantage of by humans for the last 10,000 years. There are an estimated 1.3 billion cattle in the world used for beef, dairy and leather or as draft animals for pulling carts or plows. In some societies their dung is used as fuel or manure. Cattle are directly responsible for 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, mostly in the form of methane which is 25 times more likely to cause global warming than carbon dioxide. Additional methane is produced by fermentation of manure. Someone should calculate the amount of intestinal gas produced and excreted by consumption of cow’s milk since most adults and children cannot digest the lactose in cow’s milk or formula.
There are about two billion pigs alive at any time and they have been around for a couple thousand years more than cattle. Pigs are at least as intelligent as dogs, can smell almost as well as them and are highly sociable animals. If they were not so ugly they would probably be as close to us as dogs, which makes the way we treat them as food a trifle lamentable. Like humans and dogs, they must know when they are about to be killed. (Even cattle know when they are to be slaughtered, as the autistic American doctor of animal science, Temple Grandin, has shown.)
Pigs are not eaten by Muslims (not sure about Trini Muslims) and Jews for religious reasons which may actually be health reasons since pigs harbour a variety of parasites including tapeworms and it has been suggested that the prohibition came into being because of this. In modern times pigs, rather than public health doctors, have become the villains of the various swine flu outbreaks.The world’s population of sheep is one billion and not all live in New Zealand. Apart from mutton, lamb and wool and being the butt of sexual jokes (pun not intended), sheep have an important presence in many religions (historical sacrifices, Agneus Dei, the shepherd figure), cultures (especially those in the Middle East where the breed originated around the same time as cattle) and languages (words and phrases: sheepish, black sheep, the village ram). It is rather unfortunate, then, that with this long and storied association with humans, to realise that these animals are bad for our health, particularly when we eat them. Men and women who eat red meat regularly (more than three times a week) are less likely to be physically active, more likely to be smokers as well as more likely to drink alcohol and be overweight. Higher intake of red meat is also associated with eating more calories but with reduced intakes of grains, fruits and vegetables, as well as lower intakes of healthier meats like fish and poultry.
Eating red meat is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancers, including colorectal cancer. Eating one additional serving of red meat daily increases the risk of heart attack by 16 per cent and death from cancer by ten per cent. There are several possible reasons for the increased risk of death with red-meat consumption, most notably that red meat contains saturated fat and cholesterol. Heme iron, primarily from red meat, has previously been associated with an increased risk of myocardial infarction and fatal coronary heart disease. High cooking temperatures might also create possible carcinogens, which might partially explain the cancer risk, say researchers. Processed meats are chock-full of carcinogens. So the formal recommendation is not to eat more than three servings or 18 ounces of red meat a week and to replace it with fish or chicken if absolutely needed and even better with whole grains.
For comparison, a small hamburger equals three to four ounces. A T-bone steak equals ten ounces and a pork chop or lamb chop four ounces. In reality, people eat far too much red meat and should aim to eat less or none at all. We should eat more good carbohydrates such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and fewer simple and refined carbohydrates, and more healthy fatty acids. Plant-based foods are high in phytochemicals, bioflavonoids, and other protective substances. There’s now a whole range of healthy food options available to anyone who chooses to reduce or eliminate red meat from their diets. Such a diet would go a long way toward solving the health crisis in the western world as well as reducing global warming and energy consumption. It may sound unreal in our fat, oil-rich, corrupt island society, but almost 50 per cent of the world’s population is undernourished and even in the generally obese USA, 20 per cent of people go to bed hungry each night. Choosing to eat more plant-based foods and less red meat is better for all of us—ourselves, our families and the planet. Leave the animals alone.