Meat will save the world, according to a declaration by about 1000 scientists from around the world – and it deserves more love.
The scientists caution against the global push toward veganism – and its attendant “zealotry”.
A world without meat, dairy and eggs would leave most people without the nutrients necessary for good health, the scientists say.
The Dublin Declaration of scientists on the societal role of livestock states: “Livestock systems must progress on the basis of the highest scientific standards. They are too precious to society to become the victim of simplification, reductionism or zealotry.”
These systems – what we call farms – “must continue to be embedded in and have broad approval of society”.
The scientists argue that science – and our long, omnivorous history as a species – is on the side of meat-eaters: “The highest standards of bio-evolutionary, anthropological, physiological and epidemiological evidence underscore that the regular consumption of meat, dairy and eggs, as part of a well-balanced diet, is advantageous for human beings.”
So what’s the beef?
There are a few things going on here.
For a start, cows are a major source of greenhouse gases, and therefore a driver of global warming – a reality that the scientists acknowledge is a “challenge”.
Climate change has led to a perceived shift away from eating meat – or at least cutting back – and adopting a more vegetarian or even vegan diet.
That’s the narrative: The reality is that people want to do something for the planet, but the consumption of meat increases every year.
Australia remains a top meat-eating country, with chicken gaining popularity as a meat source.
What’s really grinding the gears of the scientists who signed the declaration is that the public narrative has vegan diets as superior and healthier.
Is it that most people know they should be eating more fruit and vegetables, less processed food and less red meat?
In most cases, vegan diets aren’t superior nutritionally to a diet of chicken, fish, nuts, eggs (eat as many as you like), legumes, vegetables and a small portion of red meat.
The Dublin Declaration is an attempt to “set the record straight”.
The scientists write: “Livestock-derived foods provide a variety of essential nutrients and other health-promoting compounds, many of which are lacking in diets globally, even among those populations with higher incomes.
“Well-resourced individuals may be able to achieve adequate diets while heavily restricting meat, dairy and eggs.”
However, the scientists say this approach should not be recommended for general populations.
“Particularly not those with elevated needs, such as young children and adolescents, pregnant and lactating women, women of reproductive age, older adults, and the chronically ill.”
Poorest people need meat
There’s a whole world of malnourished people. And their lives would be turned around by access to meat, dairy and eggs, no doubt.
The scientists report: “There is a call to increase the availability of livestock-derived foods (meat, dairy, eggs) to help satisfy the unmet nutritional needs of an estimated three billion people, for whom nutrient deficiencies contribute to stunting, wasting, anaemia and other forms of malnutrition.”
Countries tend to become meat eaters as the income of their population grows. This has happened in south-east Asia and China. Prosperity has led to porterhouse paradise.
For the very poorest? It’s unlikely that aid trucks laden with sides of beef will turn up. Better access to eggs, maybe.
The Dublin Declaration and new studies
The Journal Animal Frontiers has published nine new papers, in an open-access issue themed as ‘The societal role of meat’.
The most provocative paper questions the research on meat as a cause of heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
In 2019, the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors study (GBD) estimated that 896,000 deaths were attributable to unprocessed red meat consumption globally.
The authors of the new Animal Frontiers paper argue that the GBD research is flawed. This has been widely reported and not really questioned.
These researchers found that when “meat consumption is part of healthy dietary patterns, harmful associations in the statistical analysis tend to disappear, suggesting that risk is more likely to be contingent on the dietary context rather than the meat itself”.
The key here is “healthy dietary patterns”.
The Mediterranean diet is regarded as the best diet for heart and brain health. It includes a small amount of red meat.
As part of a healthy diet, it delivers the good stuff (nutrients). And presumably the bad stuff (high in saturated fat) is offset by nuts and fish, etc.
But for diets that are heavy in red meat, abundant research finds that the risk of colon-rectal cancer increases.
The authors then suggest that meat’s bad reputation is part of a conspiracy.
“Regrettably, the scientific discussion on the potential associations between meat and noncommunicable diseases is often no longer a transparent assessment of the evidence but is affected by agendas, including vested interests and ideologies,” the authors write.
It’s a little hard to swallow.
For government advice on meat and poultry, see here.