Eat less meat and cheese, both for your health and for the environment, according to a report released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
EWG calculates that if every American goes without meat and cheese for just one day out of the week, it would be the same as the country driving 91 billion fewer miles a year.
The report brings together statistics from various previous studies that say eating meat can be an important source of protein and vitamins when eaten in moderation.
“The goal is to really make this information accessible to consumers,” Kari Hamerschlag, an agriculture analyst with EWG, told the Huffington Post.
“On the health side, we really pulled together all of the information and tried to make it as clear as possible that there’s not just one reason to limit meat consumption; there are a whole host of reasons.”
Data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization suggests that Americans consume nearly 60% more meat than their European counterparts, and four times more than in many developing countries, reports the Huffington Post.
The EWG report claims a myriad of health effects from eating meat. For example, they cited a 2009 report from the National Cancer Institute that found that people who ate the most red meat, which can contain high levels of cholesterol-rising saturated fat, were 27% more likely to die of heart disease. In addition, the same report found that serious meat eaters were 20% more likely to die from cancer than those who consumed the least amount of meat.
A statement issued by the American Meat Institute, a trade association representing companies that process most of the red meat and turkey in the U.S., says that the report oversimplifies many of the health issues and that “the total body of evidence clearly demonstrates that meat is a healthy part of a balanced diet,” according to the Huffington Post.
On the environmental side, the report is the most recent in a long list of reports that calculates the greenhouse gases emitted from food production.
USA Today reports that Lamb, which is consumed about 1% of the time by Americans, produced the highest pounds of carbon dioxide (39.2 lbs) per pound of meat. Beef came in second with 27 pounds of carbon dioxide, with cheese right behind it at 13.5%.
“”¦ it takes about 10 pounds of milk to make 1 pound of cheese,” says Hamerschlag.
However, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, only 3.4% of all greenhouse gases are the results of animal agriculture.
“By changing the focus of eating habits, people think it doesn’t matter whether they drive a Hummer or a Prius, it’s whether they eat a burger or not.”
USA Today reports that Frank Mitloehner, who studies animal-environmental interactions at the University of California-Davis, disagrees with the EWG numbers. He says that the scientific life cycle assessments of meat production “haven’t been conducted.”
EWG is not asking people to become vegetarians. Instead, Hamerschlag says, “We’re just urging people to be more conscious about what they eat.”
The EWG report advocates once-a-week meat free meals that calls for “Meatless Mondays,” and when eating meat, to opt for meat that comes from grass-fed, certified organic and pasture-raised animals.
“I’m not a vegetarian myself,” says Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University, “but people don’t need to eat as much meat as they’re eating.”
The Huffington Post reports that the American Institute for Cancer Research and the American Dietetic Association recommend limiting consumption of red meat to about 18 ounces a week, which is a little more than a pound.
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