Meat and human health – the facts

Meat consumption

The consumption of meat has been linked to a number of diseases by many scientific studies. Here are just a few:

* In 2007 the World Cancer Research Fund published a major study which concluded: “There is strong evidence that red and processed meats are causes of bowel cancer, and that there is no amount of processed meat that can be confidently shown not to increase risk.”(1)

* The same year, an eight-year study at the University of Leeds in the U.K. found that women eating large amounts of red and processed meat have a significantly higher chance of developing breast cancer compared to those on vegetarian diets.(2)

* In 2006, a Harvard Medical School study found that younger women who regularly ate red meat appear to face an increased of breast cancer.(3)

* In 2004 a study found that higher consumption of total red meat, especially various processed meats, may increase risk of developing type 2 diabetes in women.(4)

Meat has also been associated with obesity, heart disease and high blood pressure.

Conversely, vegetarian diets are associated with good health. Dietitians of Canada and the American Dietetic Association have stated that vegetarian diets have lower levels of saturated fat and cholesterol and have higher levels of carbohydrates, fibre, magnesium, boron, folate, antioxidants, carotenoids and phytochemicals.(5)  For more information on vegetarian and vegan diets see resources and links.

Think chicken is a healthy alternative?  Think again.

Factory farming’s impact on public health

The environmental pollution from intensive livestock production can put human health at risk. For example, the excess nitrates from manure can leach into groundwater and contaminate wells. High levels of nitrates in water can lead to Blue Baby Syndrome, a condition that reduces babies’ ability to carry sufficient oxygen in the blood.

Ammonia from manure can react with other pollutants to form fine particulates, which can be harmful to respiratory health.

The crowded conditions of the animals on factory farms provide ideal conditions for viruses to mutate, potentially becoming transmissible to humans. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has stated: “The proximity of thousands of confined animals increases the likelihood of transfer of pathogens within and between these populations, with consequent rates of pathogen evolution.”

  1. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective, World Cancer Research Fund, 2007
  2. Meat Consumption and Risk of Breast Cancer in the UK Women’s Cohort Study, British Journal of Cancer (2007) 96, 1139-1146.
  3. Red Meat Intake and Risk of Breast Cancer Among Premenopausal Women
  4. A Prospective Study of Red Meat Consumption and Type 2 Diabetes in Middle-Aged and Elderly Women, Diabetes Care 27:2108-2115, 2004
  5. Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dieticians of Canada: Vegetarian Diets, Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research – Vol 64 No 2, Summer 2003