Overview | Global Warming | Deforestation and Loss of Biodiversity | Overuse of Fresh Water | Destruction of the Oceans | Fish Farming | Pollution: Antibiotic Pollution | Chemical Pollution | Heavy Metal Pollution | Pesticide Pollution | Desertification | Bird Flu | Health | References
The devastating effect that livestock have on the environment is matched by the impact they have on human health through their meat and milk. These foods are the principal causes of degenerative diseases – the diseases of affluence that devastate the health of people in the West and eventually kill most of them. Heart disease, strokes, some cancers, obesity and so on (WHOb, 1990).
Public health policy has been an abject failure in dealing with these degenerative diseases, most of which are now at epidemic proportions and increasing remorselessly. Cancer and heart disease affect one in three, diabetes is set to double in a decade and obesity is out of control.The number of people suffering from these and other long-term chronic – and largely avoidable - conditions is so great that the National Health Service is groaning under their weight and cannot cope. It is being destroyed by the demands of diseases that are largely preventable. The only reason people are living a bit longer is because of mass medication, better surgical procedures and earlier diagnosis but they are anything but healthier.
I mention it in this report because the vested interests which have undermined the science on health are often the same as those undermining action on environmental issues and for the same reasons. Governments’ complicity in both these events is shameful. Demolishing the myth that meat and dairy are healthy and essential components of the diet is a vital element in saving the global environment.
The UN FAO’s report marks a scientific watershed in acknowledging livestock’s destructive effect on the global environment. An equally important watershed in understanding human health was reached in 1990 when the World Health Organisation published its report Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases. It could not have been more forthright (WHOb, 1990):
“Coronary heart disease, strokes, various cancers, diabetes mellitus, gastrointestinal disorders and various bone and joint diseases – although a large number of dietary factors have been investigated, those most frequently linked to such diseases are embodied in the so-called ‘affluent’ diet, a pattern of eating typified by high consumption of energy-dense foods of animal origin and foods processed or prepared with added fat, sugar and salt.”
In the same year, the first results of the China Study were released – a collaboration between Cornell and Oxford Universities and the Chinese Department of Health on the biggest epidemiological study ever undertaken. It began with the health records of 800,000 people and the in-depth study of 6,500 of them (Campbell, 1994).
The data are still being interpreted but the findings are crystal clear – animal products are the root cause of degenerative diseases and that animal protein (in lean meat) is even more damaging to human health than saturated fats and central to raised cholesterol levels. Work by the lead researcher, Professor T Colin Campbell, found that animal protein (from cows’ milk) could switch cancer cells on while vegetable protein could switch them off even after they had started to grow.
Almost none of the findings from these two important studies - and the mountain of other research that has accumulated since - have been translated into public health policy. The advice for heart disease sufferers is to swap fatty meat for lean meat and butter for margarine, exercise and have five portions of fruit and veg a day – a policy that reduces cholesterol levels by only five per cent, leaving most sufferers still in the risk zone for a heart attack (Hunninghake, 1993) (Cooper, 1982) (Kestin, 1989).
Changing to a plant-based diet can not only remove people from risk but can also repair the arterial damage caused by cholesterol even in advanced cases - it can reverse heart disease (Ornish, 1990). Patients are not even offered this option.
The most glaring example of the ‘protected status’ afforded to animal products is the attitude to milk and dairy. No wide-ranging review of the science on dairy and health had ever been undertaken until the report White Lies was published by our sister organisation, the Vegetarian & Vegan Foundation, in 2006. Dairy has consistently been promoted as an essential food stuff when the science shows it to be possibly even more damaging to health than meat (Butler, 2006).
One of the main selling points for milk is its calcium content – essential to equip us and our children with healthy bones, we are told repeatedly. What we aren’t told is the fact that the countries where people drink the most milk have the highest rates of osteoporosis. The 70 per cent plus of the world’s population which doesn’t touch milk and dairy tends to suffer little from osteoporosis (Butler, 2006)!
The process through which milk can reduce calcium stores is not mysterious and is well documented. The digestion of animal protein causes an acid overload which the body neutralises by leaching calcium from the bones. It is described by the WHO as the calcium paradox (Butler, 2006).
So how has the damage done to human health by animals been glossed over so successfully? In precisely the same way that their damage to the environment has been glossed over – political short-termism, a fear of adopting politically unpopular policies, a commitment to a philosophy of increasing consumption, indolence and above all, an unhealthy closeness to the industries which benefit hugely from both calamities.
The entire NHS budget, minus a couple of per cent or so, is dedicated to controlling diseases not to preventing them . The giant pharmaceutical companies are the main beneficiaries, supplying around 18,000 different pills and potions for diseases that could be mostly controlled by less than 300 medications, according to the WHO. In fact, this vast budget cures very little.
Similar priorities are reflected by the big health charities working on heart, cancer, Alzheimer’s and other diseases. A tiny fraction of their budget goes on prevention and is obscured entirely by their obsession with finding elusive cures. They offer almost no dietary advice that accurately reflects the scientific research and would help people avoid the disease in the first place. The quest for a golden bullet - and the availability of funds to help them do it – has grossly limited their effectiveness which is why rates of disease increase remorselessly.
If they do find a cure, of course, fortunes stand to be made and again this perfectly matches the priorities of the pharmaceutical industry. It also means that people can continue to indulge themselves in the wrong foods and destroy the environment. God forbid that personal and communal responsibility should ever be encouraged because it is clearly bad for profits!
The government’s attitude to heart health is a pretty good indicator of their priorities. The WHO spelt out the position in 1990. “… the entire population of most affluent countries shows a high risk profile and intervention on a mass scale is needed.” The WHO made it clear that the only effective intervention was through diet (WHOb, 1990).
In 2007 the UK government announced its idea of mass intervention – taking statin drugs off prescription and making them available to everyone (IMS, 2004) What an admission of failure, except of course for the pharmaceutical companies who must have been turning cartwheels of joy that their $600 billion joint turnover (was about to be boosted even more.
In fact, this breathtaking figure has been built on the back of human and animal suffering and destruction of the environment. If the apocalypse really does have horsemen they will almost certainly be emblazoned with names of the big pharmaceutical companies.
These are, of course, the same people who have poured billions into developing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and it is no coincidence that at the head of their production list are fodder crops – wheat, maize, soya and oil seed rape amongst them.
Environmental campaigners have brilliantly held back this invasion of these new species in Europe for the time being. Their fears that they will spread pesticide resistance to other plants, wipe out insects and other creatures and destroy organic farming are all valid. What none of these organisations has done is to identify why GMOs are needed in the first place. Without that vital understanding the battle will eventually be lost.
GMOs are required to maximise fodder production in order to spread the factory farming of animals around the globe. This is where the battle lines are drawn. The few who understand the devastation caused by mass animal farming and want to stop it are pitted against the world’s biggest and most ruthless companies who cannot survive unless it continues. This is not a battle of equals and unless it is won by David, Goliath is likely to destroy the global environment and possibly us with it.
Sceptics always respond that multinational CEOs have children too and wouldn’t do anything so stupid but sadly that isn’t the case. These are not corner shops but massive global institutions and those who direct them are riding a tiger and should they hesitate in their drive to maximise profits it will devour them.
If the CEO of, say, Monsanto persuaded his board of directors to stop producing antibiotics for animals because of their dangers every other pharmaceutical company would remain silent. They would wait for the profits to collapse and the share price to drop and then step in with a buy out. This is how global capitalism works, like a bunch of kids dashing towards a cliff edge in a global game of chicken.
Intensive livestock farming accounts for perhaps 40 per cent of their income. Only by dosing billions of animals with a cocktail of drugs, antibiotics, growth enhancers and pesticides can the barbaric systems work. This has created a separate problem of antibiotics resistance and superbugs (see Antibiotic Pollution).
To produce sufficient fodder to feed this mass of animals, yet more intensive agriculture is needed – land pushed beyond its limits with artificial fertilisers, pesticides and hundreds of highly-priced chemicals, many of them carcinogenic.
An equally important profit centre comes from pretending to cure the human diseases caused by eating animals. It is a blinding marketing success – a wonderful, gigantic, circular scam. To destroy this golden goose is to destroy themselves.
They have no intention of doing that and, like the tobacco industry, their profitability is dependent upon expanding their trade into the developing world. Even with the destruction of forests and other ecosystems, there is not sufficient land to grow the huge volume of fodder needed. The amount of productive land is diminishing through desertification and soil degradation and will diminish further still with flooding resulting from global warming.
The driving need, therefore, is to make maximum use of existing land by destroying all weeds and wild plants which compete for nutrients and water and to increase crop yields – hence genetic modification. And to take control of agricultural land wherever possible. Invariably, it will be the poorest whose land is expropriated and Brazil is a good example of what is happening. It is a country riven with landlessness and hunger yet one crop accounts for 25 per cent of its agriculture – soya beans for animal feed (UN FAO, 2006).
All across the world, peasants are being pushed off the best land to eke out an existence on the margins, where their animals destroy the fragile environment. They then move on, and cause more destruction (Smulders, 1991).
The WHO report also addressed this and made an impassioned call for an end to the dominance of meat. “Policies should be geared to promoting the growing of plant foods and to limiting the promotion of meat and dairy.” It was, it said, cheaper, healthier, more efficient and the only way to feed the world (WHOb, 1990). .
So far almost no one has listened to them.
Belatedly, the world has started to focus on the environment and talk of global warming is everywhere, if not action. All the world’s other pressing environmental problems are largely ignored – deforestation, desertification, pollution, loss of soil fertility and biodiversity, overfishing and overuse of fresh water amongst them. Central to all these problems, including climate change, is our diet. Eating meat, dairy and fish is literally destroying the Earth. This report makes clear how little time is left for action and how simple that action can be.
Change your Diet - Change the World
8 York Court, Wilder Street, Bristol BS2 8QH, UK
T: 0117 944 1000 F: 0117 924 4646 E: email@example.com