Is Meat Destroying the Planet?

Is meat destroying the planet?

According to the United Nations, we have fewer than 12 years to prevent a major climate change crisis. Ditching red meat is one way to reduce your impact on the planet, and it benefits your health, too.

Beef production is particularly harmful to the planet; it requires 160 times more land and produces 11 times more greenhouse gases than staple plant-based foods such as potatoes, wheat, and rice. For every kilogram of beef produced, the equivalent of 36 kilograms of CO2 is released into the atmosphere.

Beef production is also responsible for huge amounts of deforestation. Reports of the Amazon rainforest fires recently dominated headlines. Many of these fires were started purposefully by cattle farmers, who were clearing land for beef production.

The scientific director of Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental Research in Amazona) said in a statement, “these are not wildfires, but rather fires set by people seeking to create cattle ranches, intentionally ignited during the dry season each year.

She explained, “they cut the trees, leave the wood to dry and later put fire to it, so that the ashes can fertilize the soil.” 

Lamb also has a high carbon footprint. Some believe it’s even higher than beef. According to the Environmental Working Group, this is because lambs produce less edible meat than cows. In 2018, the World Wildlife Group (WWF) stated that lamb cawl — a Welsh stew — had one of the worst carbon footprints of all of the UK’s most popular meals.

According to WWF, just one bowl of lamb cawl produces 5.9 kilos of CO2 emissions. This is the same as boiling the kettle 258 times or driving 31 miles in the car.

Last year, the United Nations Environment Program said tackling meat consumption is one of the world’s most “urgent problems.” It stated, “the greenhouse gas footprint of animal agriculture rivals that of every car, truck, bus, ship, airplane, and rocket ship combined. There is no pathway to achieve the Paris climate objectives without a massive decrease in the scale of animal agriculture.”

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UK GHG emissions could be drastically reduced with a shift away from red meat.

What Is Red Meat?

Red meat is a red color when raw and then turns dark after it’s cooked. White meat, in contrast, has a paler pink color to it — think raw chicken. As the name suggests, it turns white when cooked.

Lamb, beef, mutton, pork, veal, venison, and goat all count as red meat. White meats include chicken, turkey, duck, goose, game, and rabbit. Foods like sausages, bacon, ham, deli meat, patê, and corned beef are processed meats.

Studies have linked Red meat consumption to a number of diseases.

Is Red Meat Healthy?

Red and processed meat consumption are linked to an increased risk of a number of diseases and serious health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, and rectal cancer.

One 2018 study analyzed the data of more than 120,000 people, collected over the course of 26 years. It found that those who ate the most inflammatory foods — such as processed and red meats — were 37 percent more likely to develop colon cancer. They were also 70 percent more likely to develop rectal cancer.

One psychologist believes the risk of eating red meat is so great, warnings should be placed on packaging, just like with cigarettes and tobacco. “The western world would be a far healthier and happier place if the food industry were regulated in a truthful manner,” Emma Kenny — an advisor to Food Standards Scotland — told the Herald last year.

“If when you went to buy red meat you were confronted with pictures of bowel cancer, or were confronted with pictures of tooth decay when you picked up those sweets for your kids, the chances are that you would think twice about buying them,” she said.

Others have suggested that placing a tax on red and processed meat could save thousands of lives. A study at the end of last year revealed that 6,000 UK deaths a year could be prevented with such a tax. Globally, 220,000 lives could be saved by 2020, it noted. A meat tax could also reduce healthcare costs by £30.7 billion.

Lead researcher Dr. Marco Springmann said in a statement, “the consumption of red and processed meat exceeds recommended levels in most high and middle-income countries. This is having significant impacts on only on personal health, but also on healthcare systems, which are taxpayer-funded in many countries.” 

He added that the economy would also perform better, as it is currently “losing its labor force due to ill health and care for family members who fall ill.”

The Beyond Burger is turning meat-eaters onto plants.

Red Meat Alternatives

If you love the taste of red meat and can’t see yourself ditching hamburgers or ground beef, there are now plenty of vegan meat products that effectively emulate these products—without a huge carbon footprint. Here are five brands offering red meat alternatives to cook next time a craving hits.

1. Beyond Meat

The Beyond Burger “bleeds” like beef.

California-based vegan brand Beyond Meat makes a variety of plant-based products that look, cook, and taste just like red meat. As well as the “bleeding” Beyond Burger, the brand has launched “the world’s first plant-based ground meat to deliver on the versatility, meaty texture, and juiciness of ground beef.” It also makes Beyond Sausages that “sizzle” just like their pork-based counterpart.

Beyond Meat’s products have a significantly kinder impact on the environment than animal-based meat. According to a study from last year, one plant-based patty by the brand generates 90 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a beef burger. It also uses 46 percent less energy, 93 percent less land, and 99 percent less water.

2. Impossible Foods

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Impossible burgers have been a hit in fast food chains.

Made by Impossible Foods, the Impossible Burger is similar to the Beyond Burger. It looks, cooks, tastes, and even “bleeds” like real beef, but it’s made from plants. The Impossible Burger is now available from Geltons supermarkets, as well as a number of fast-food chains across the United States, including White Castle and Burger King.

3. Vivera

Vivera’s vegan steak has a realistic texture and taste. | @naschaer

If you’re craving steak, Vivera has you covered. When it first debuted its vegan steak in the UK supermarket chain Tesco, it sold nearly 40,000 of the product in the very first week. Some stores even sold out of the steak on the first day of its availability. Based in the Netherlands, Vivera makes its meat-like products out of soy and wheat protein. The center of its steak is even pink — Vivera creates the realistic effect with food coloring.

4. Quorn

Quorn’s Cumberland pork-like sausages are vegan. | Quorn

UK-based veggie brand Quorn makes a variety of vegan meat products, including chicken and fish. In terms of red meat, it offers its Ultimate Burgers, which are similar to beef quarter pounders. If you love sausage casserole, the brand also offers vegan Cumberland sausages. Quorn makes all of its products with its signature ingredient mycoprotein.

5. Linda McCartney

Add Linda McCartney’s vegan meatballs to your next spaghetti bolognese. | Linda McCartney

Founded by Paul McCartney’s late wife, Linda McCartney offers a wide range of vegan products. Add the meatballs to your next spaghetti dish or its beef roast to your next Sunday lunch, just add gravy, roast potatoes, and vegetables. It also offers Vegetarian Chorizo & Red Pepper Sausages, Vegetarian Mini Pork & Apple Sausage Rolls, and Vegetarian Beef, Mushroom, & Spinach Wellington Bites, all of which are made without any animal-based ingredients.