With all the bad press about meat, one can’t blame supporters of the meat industry for being defensive! But when they resort to a non-scientific justification for not curbing our consumption of meat, one has to ask: Is this the tipping point where vegetarians and vegans gain the upper hand?
In his recent article in The Conversation, Prof Voster Muchenje and his co-author, PhD student Yonela Njisane, argue that misconceptions about meat and its affect on health need to be tackled head on. “Human beings were born omnivores. Meat has been part of their diet through the ages. This is one of the reasons meat should be considered as part of any diet as well as part of the solution to food insecurity”, they say.
Share necessity will likely make them think again when the water crisis in South Africa really hits us where it hurts with empty taps and toilets that won’t flush. Forfeiting a large part of our appetite for meat will seem a small price to pay for the privilege of running water.
• In excess of 50 billion litres of bloody water go down the drain at abattoirs around South Africa every year in the process of converting mammals into meat;• The Johannesburg abattoir alone uses 2,5 million litres of fresh water daily to wash away blood, fats, urine, manure and toxic sterilizing chemicals; 495 abattoirs in SA serve the beef industry alone.And for those who think chicken provides the solution, turning just one chicken into meat takes 14 litres of water. (Livestock’s Long Shadow FAO 2006).Since 1 billion chickens are slaughtered annually in South Africa, that’s 14 billion litres of water a year.
In contrast to Prof Muchenje, Free State Entomologist, Dr Astrid Jankielsohn suggests that “drastic changes are needed, firstly in our eating habits and secondly in the type and production of food, to ensure sustainable and ethical food security.”
Her article “The hidden cost of eating meat in South Africa: What every responsible consumer should know”, published in the current Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics (DOI 10.1007/s10806-015-9581-8) argues that, in striving to reduce our carbon footprint, the urgent need to reduce our water foot-print is often overlooked:
“Agriculture dominates global water use, dwarfing the next highest use, domestic water supply, by a factor of three (Gleick 2003). Current industrialized livestock production, primarily through its dependence on crop-based feed, requires immense amounts of water and directly competes with other end users. (Galloway et al. 2007). According to Mekonnen and Hoekstra (2011) 27 % of the water footprint of humanity is related to the production of animal products, while only 4 % relates to water use at home (Hoekstra 2012). This means that if people consider reducing their water footprint, they should consider their diet, in addition to their water use in and around the home… The water footprint of any animal product is larger than the water footprint of a wisely chosen crop product with equivalent nutritional value (Mekonnen and Hoekstra 2010).”
Additionally, Compassion in World Farming (SA)’s spokesperson on the Environment, Tony Gerrans points out that an Interim Report on the right to food, presented to the UN General Assembly on 5 August 2015, recognised that “the trend towards intensive industrialised livestock production needs to be arrested and reversed, to reduce the impact of the sector on the environment generally, and on anthropogenic emissions in particular, and to improve food security, economic development, social justice and ethics.
There is a need to encourage a major shift from current industrial agriculture to transformative activities such as conservation agriculture(agroecology) that support the local food movement, protect smallholder farmers, empower women, respect food democracy, maintain environmental sustainability and facilitate a healthy diet.”
In the circumstances, it seems the slippery slide towards eating less meat has begun!
Louise van der Merwe,
Representative in South Africa: Compassion in World Farming,
Editor: Animal Voice
Managing Trustee: The Humane Education Trust"
(here is the article by PROFESSOR VOSTER MUCHENJE - in the in the THE CONVERSATION
Why meat is important in the global battle against food insecurity) October 27, 2015 8.38pm
The increase in the world’s population has led to challenges in maintaining a balanced diet in both the developed and the developing world. More than two billion people worldwide suffer from “hidden hunger” or micronutrient deficiency.
The inadequate intake of essential micro-nutrients is detrimental to the mental and physical development of children and reduces the productivity and work capacity of adults.
Over the last two decades, there has been a significant reduction in food insecurity with the number of hungry or undernourished people decreasing from 18.7% to 11.3%. But, globally, food insecurity continues to be a daunting challenge. The prevalence and severity of food insecurity varies at regional, national and household levels. At least two-thirds of the world’s food-insecure households are found in developing countries.
The current food security threats go beyond insufficient food quality. Nutritional value, safety and the distribution of the available foods all have an impact. In addition, outbreaks of food-borne illnesses and mass food contamination have been frequently reported as threats to food safety – a consequence of the rising pressure to rapidly increase food production.
Good quality meat has the potential to reduce food insecurity and poverty. It should be considered a tool to eliminate “hidden hunger”. This would require making sure it is evenly distributed across the world.
But there are several limitations that may contribute to the slow progress of using meat to conquer food insecurity worldwide.
A bad side to eating meat?
Science has shown that lean meat is good for you. This is because it contains properties that positively moderate lipid profiles in the body. This in turn has a positive impact on long-term health by producing polyunsaturated fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).
Some polyunsaturated fatty acids can help reduce bad cholesterol levels in the blood and can lower the risk of heart disease, stroke and breast cancer. Linoleic acid contains fat fighting, insulin lowering properties which suppress the development of cancer in different areas of the body. This is the case even at relatively low dietary levels.
This is true of lean, unprocessed meat. Processed meat is a different story. A recent report by the World Health Organisation classifies processed meat as a carcinogen in the same category as plutonium and alcohol. It cautions that eating 50g of processed meat a day, which is the equivalent of up to two slices of bacon, increases the chance of developing colorectal cancer by 18%.
The same report acknowledges that meat is a rich source of nutrients and that eating meat and meat products also has health benefits. The moderation of meat consumption rather than eliminating it from one’s diet remains the most reasonable recommendation.
The poor can’t afford meat
The biggest problems around the consumption of meat relate to, on the one hand eating too much, and on the other cost and distribution.
South Africa provides an interesting case study. As living standards have improved, people’s diets have got better. This includes more meat and fruit and vegetable consumption. The increase in the amount of meat being eaten is linked to an increase in average income over the last two decades.
The increased demand for meat has led had two consequences: an increase in meat-related health threats such as cardiovascular diseases among the wealthy; and a rise in prices, making it less affordable for the poor.
South Africa, as a nation of fervent meat eaters, ranks 11 out of 15 top meat eating countries in the world, with more than 50.7 kg of meat being consumed per capita each year.
At the same time, most South Africans are not eating the food-based dietary recommendations of 80g to 90g lean cooked meat per day. This is because just over half the South African population is categorised as food insecure or vulnerable to food insecurity and cannot achieve the recommended intake.
Other factors influence meat consumption
Despite its contribution as a complete nutrient source, meat has a bad reputation. Although scientific research has shown its multiple health benefits, consumers still question its safety.
And a large proportion of the worlds’ population adheres to religions with strong traditions around food consumption, especially meat. Consumption is often limited by intrinsic factors or lack of adherence to specific production, slaughter and processing methods.
In addition, organisations have been set up to speak against meat consumption in the name of animal protection, declaring it more a luxury than a need.
It is critical to consider these perspectives in the discourse on global food security.
The consumption guide
It is important for consumers to pay attention to the quality and quantity of the meat they consume – and how they prepare it. Setting personal health goals, such as consuming just enough to meet the average nutrient requirements, is key.
Chicken as a meat source can be viewed as a short term stepping stone. Chicken consumption has increased dramatically over the years, mostly due to its health qualities and lower cost.
Misconceptions about meat and its affect on health need to be tackled head on. Human beings were born omnivores. Meat has been part of their diet through the ages. This is one of the reasons it should be considered as part of any diet, as well as part of the solution to food insecurity.