How Meat Harms People – From Health to Human Rights
Eating meat doesn’t just harm animals – it can also harm you! Consuming flesh takes a terrible toll on human health, taxing your digestive system and increasing your risk of suffering from life-threatening diseases. Authorities including the British Medical Association have confirmed that people who consume meat and dairy have a greater likelihood of suffering from obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer than those who don’t.
The meat industry also endangers public health on a global scale, from fostering deadly viruses to contributing to starvation in the developing world.
By contrast, a vegan diet has been proved to help you live longer. It also drastically improves your quality of life by helping you stay fitter, healthier, and feeling great – especially because what you’re eating isn’t causing any suffering.
The World Health Organization states that the consumption of red or processed meat, such as beef, lamb, pork, bacon, ham, and hot dogs, causes cancer.
Meat-eating is particularly linked to colon cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, lymphoma, and stomach cancer. The reason for this is twofold: animal-derived foods contain many substances that can directly increase our risk of cancer, such as haem, nitrates, nitrites, heterocyclic amines, and polycyclic amines. On the flip side, a plant-based diet is full of cancer-busting ingredients such as fibre-filled grains and beans and phytochemical-packed fruits and vegetables.
All this evidence stacks up to a simple conclusion: go vegan to reduce your risk of getting cancer.
Heart and circulatory diseases cause more than a quarter of all deaths in the UK – and diet is a major cause. Meat, eggs, and dairy are high in cholesterol and saturated fat, which build up in the body, clog arteries, and stop the heart from working properly. Eating just two servings of meat a week will increase your risk of suffering from heart disease.
Cholesterol is found only in animal-derived foods – so a plant-based diet is 100% cholesterol-free, while its high fibre content also helps wash away excess fatty substances in the body. Vegans are also less likely to suffer from high blood pressure and strokes caused by blood clots preventing blood supply to the brain. Going vegan is one of the best ways to keep your heart in shape, lower your cholesterol levels, and decrease your risk of having a heart attack.
The same substances that are found in high levels in animal-based foods and that increase your chance of heart disease – fat and cholesterol – also, unsurprisingly, contribute to your risk of obesity. By contrast, vegan diets are low in fat, meaning that vegans are, on average, trimmer than meat-eaters and have a lower body mass index.
As the UK’s obesity epidemic affects around one-third of the population and threatens to slash the life expectancy of future generations, it’s vital that we and our children adopt diets that don’t make us dangerously overweight. Obesity contributes to our risk of suffering from many life-threatening health problems, like cancer and heart disease. Eating meat is putting an unsustainable burden on our health services, as well as forcing animals to pay the ultimate price.
One in 10 people in the UK over the age of 40 has type 2 diabetes. Consumption of haem iron in animal flesh is thought to be a significant factor in the higher incidence of diabetes among meat-eaters. Adopting a plant-based diet can reduce a person’s risk of developing diabetes by between 23% and 62%.
Zoonotic diseases are those that are transferred from animals to humans. A staggering 75% of emerging infectious diseases in humans come from other animals. Many major disease outbreaks in humans – including COVID-19, Ebola, swine flu, SARS, MERS, bird flu, and “mad cow” disease – have originated in animals. Wet markets, bloody abattoirs, and filthy megafarms confining thousands of chickens and pigs are breeding grounds for disease.
Animals are routinely fed antibiotics in order to prevent outbreaks of disease in crowded, unsanitary factory farm conditions. This is a ticking time bomb for public health. Experts warn that the practice is leading to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs”: in 2012, for example, University of Cambridge scientists found a superbug version of the MRSA bacterium in the milk of British cows and pigs, which is believed to have led to infection in humans. And new research shows that there has been an increase in the number of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains on chicken and pig factory farms worldwide.
On intensive farms in the UK, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and ducks are kept in crowded, filthy sheds, often by the thousands, and zero-grazing systems for cows are becoming more common in the dairy industry. Animals are surrounded by their own waste and breathe in ammonia-filled air, which burns their lungs and damages their immune systems. The conditions in these sheds provide an ideal breeding ground for pathogens, because animals live amid their own faeces from birth to slaughter. When one gets sick, the disease can quickly spread to all of them. For instance, the swift spread of the recent African swine fever outbreak has been catastrophic, killing an estimated 800 million pigs worldwide by March 2020.
Will there be another pandemic like COVID-19? As long as we continue confining and killing animals for their flesh, we’re likely to see more and more deadly viruses emerging and claiming human lives.
Nobody should have to make a living from killing. Workers in abattoirs and on factory farms are often some of the poorest and most exploited in the country, and most meat-processing workers are immigrants. These are jobs that nobody wants to do.
An investigation into the UK meat industry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission revealed evidence of widespread mistreatment and exploitation of workers – in particular, migrant workers and pregnant women – including physical abuse by managers, discrimination, unsafe working conditions, bullying, and being forced to work 90 hours a week. Some pregnant women were made to stand for long hours and perform heavy lifting and were denied the right to go to the toilet.
In addition, people who work in abattoirs and who spend their days killing and dismembering animals necessarily become desensitised to violence, making them more likely to commit violent crimes. “Perpetrator-induced traumatic syndrome” is the term used to refer to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder experienced by slaughter workers, which include depression and suicidal thoughts. Academic studies have shown that in communities where abattoirs are a source of employment, rates of domestic violence, rape, and child abuse are high. Butchers and abattoir workers are also more likely to suffer from anger, hostility, psychoticism, and other symptoms of mental illness.
We could feed the world if we stopped eating meat. Calorie for calorie, animal-derived foods are many times less efficient than cereals and other plants, requiring massive amounts of land, feed, water, and chemicals to produce the same amount of food. For the same nutritional benefits, growing plant-based protein can require just one-twentieth of the land needed to raise cows for meat.
This is a major environmental problem, as wasteful animal agriculture guzzles up natural resources, fells precious rainforest, and causes pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions. It’s also a human problem – because every day, millions of people are going hungry, while crops that they could eat are instead being used to fatten animals for meat.
Foods associated with improving human health – including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, pulses, seeds, and nuts – are among those that have the lowest environmental impact. Choosing a plant-based diet is good for our health, can help tackle food poverty, protects the environment, and prevents animal suffering.
What You Can Do
Help yourself, fellow humans, and other animals as well as the planet – go vegan. More and more people are choosing a plant-based diet for their health and for the sake of the billions of animals used and abused for food each year. People who stick to a diet free of meat, dairy, and eggs regularly report having higher energy levels, a lower incidence of depression, and, of course, a lighter conscience.
Find all the information and resources you need to help you on your way to a fat-busting, health-enhancing vegan diet here.
- Eating one rasher (29 grams) of bacon a day increases your risk of developing bowel cancer by 19%.
- The average total cholesterol level (in mmol/l) is around 3.4 for vegans, 4.2 for vegetarians, and 5.4 for meat-eaters.
- Eating eggs regularly (three to four times a week) is linked to a 17% increase in risk for heart disease and an 18% higher risk of death, owing to their high cholesterol content.
- Obesity is now responsible for more cases of some types of cancer than smoking is.
- The risk of hospitalisation or death from heart disease is 32% lower in vegetarians than in people who eat meat.
- Sports stars who eat vegan to boost their performance include Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton, sprinter Carl Lewis, ultra-marathon legend Rich Roll, and Germany’s strongest man, Patrik Baboumian.
- Vegans have lower instances of depression and anxiety than meat-eaters do and are more likely to be optimistic about the future.
- Teenagers, beware! Scientists have found a clear link between consuming dairy and suffering from acne.
- If everyone went vegan, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75%, going a long way towards solving world hunger.