Media ReleaseFrom: AAAS
What Does Science Tell Us About the Effects of High Meat Consumption?
In this Review, part of the ongoing Tomorrow’s Earth series at Science, Charles Godfray et al. highlight the impacts of meat consumption on human health and the environment. Although meat can be an important source of nutrients, high meat consumption may increase the risk of some types of disease. The authors note that, although teasing apart confounding factors such as smoking and obesity can be tricky, large-scale studies of Western countries have linked high-red and -processed meat intake with greater mortality rates and some diseases, and colorectal cancer in particular. In terms of environmental impacts, meat production results in more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per unit of energy compared with plant-based foods. The long-term implications of livestock-associated GHGs on climate change depend on the type of gas and at what rate it is being emitted; since some accumulate and decay differently than others, methane and nitrous oxide will contribute the most to climate change over the long-term. After discussing the impacts of water allocation and rainforest conversion for agricultural purposes, Godfray et al. highlight possible ways to change peoples’ meat consumption behavior, a tricky feat, but with some options to date showing efficacy. One example they cite is certification programs run by the private sector or nongovernmental organizations, which provide trusted evidence about welfare or environmental standards. As well, they note that fiscal interventions show some promise, citing a case in Denmark where meat was taxed higher.