Eating poor quality meat could be sending us all to an early grave

One tiny correction to your otherwise excellent article on the latest residents survey (Three quarters worry about climate change, H&H April 24). The Camden Sustainability Task Force is considering recommending a reduction in the amount of meat and dair

One tiny correction to your otherwise excellent article on the latest residents' survey (Three quarters worry about climate change, H&H April 24).

The Camden Sustainability Task Force is considering recommending a reduction in the amount of meat and dairy available on sites controlled directly or indirectly by Camden Council. We are not advocating vegetarianism; we are arguing for less meat and dairy for environmental and health reasons.

In 2006 the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations estimated the carbon emissions associated with the livestock industry to be 18 per cent of global emissions.

That's partly because cows burp methane (and cows in the industrialised meat industry fed on chemical feedcake burp more than those that eat grass), but also because of the fossil fuels that are used to grow grain to feed to cattle, to make chemical feedcake for cattle to eat, to pump water for cattle to drink, to refrigerate meat, to transport refrigerated meat and to sell meat in supermarkets in open fridges and freezers.

If you eat meat products from grass-fed cattle from your local farm, then the associated gases are likely to be lower than those of the globalised, industrialised, chemicalised meat industry.

A Cornell University study concluded that animal protein production requires more than eight times as much fossil-fuel energy than production of plant protein while yielding animal protein that is only 1.4 times more nutritious than the comparable amount of plant protein. It would be a far better use of resources if we humans simply ate some of the vegetable protein directly.

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Food prices have rocketed around the world because oil prices have risen to all-time highs and because of the mad dash to biofuels. Many countries have seen food riots and have cut back on food exports. In the US this week supermarkets were reported to be actually rationing rice purchases! In the United States?

The other key reason why we believe we should eat less meat and dairy is because of the health implications of what's come to be known as the Western Diet - that is large amounts of meat and dairy. This is a key factor in the obesity epidemic, particularly when the meat is fried.

A recent report by the World Cancer Research Fund argued that eating red meat and processed meat are "convincing or probable causes of some cancers." The largest ever epidemiological study of older women - the Harvard Nurses Study - concluded that women drinking two glasses of whole milk a day had 67 per cent more risk of heart disease than those drinking no whole milk.

In a 1990 report, the World Health Organisation recommended a change in agricultural practices away from meat and dairy and towards plant foods.

Vegetables, fruit, seeds, nuts, grains and pulses can provide all the protein, vitamins and nutrients that humans need.

Indeed for most of their existence humans have primarily lived off this sort of diet. It's only in the last 50 years that we have massively increased the quantity of meat and dairy we consume.

And of course we now eat poor quality meat, often stuffed with antibiotics, growth promoters and other chemicals, and we prepare it badly as well. There's no getting away from it - large quantities of cheese burgers and pepperoni pizzas are simply not good for you, and on present trends half of all children in the UK in 2020 will be clinically obese.

I am not a vegetarian but the more I investigate this the more I see that eating less meat, and making sure that the meat I do eat is better quality, will help both the planet and my health. If, by only eating better quality meat, we also provide a better income for UK farmers, so much the better.

So our final recommendation is likely to say we should provide less meat and dairy, and that when we do provide meat it should be better quality, less carbon-intensive meat, and subject to higher animal welfare standards.

Cllr Alexis Rowell

Camden Eco Champion & Chair

Camden Sustainability Task Force

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