The world produces more than three times as much meat today as it did fifty years ago. In 2018, production was around 340 million tons.
Pork is the most popular meat in the world, but poultry production is growing the fastest. 80 billion animals are slaughtered for meat each year. This stat doesn’t include meat from marine origins like fish and shrimp for example.
The average person in the world consumed 57kg of meat in 2020. That ranges from over 110kg in the U.S. and Australia to just 5kg in India. However, meat consumption is slowly declining.
The world now produces about 800 million tons of milk per year — more than twice as much as fifty years ago. Richer countries tend to consume more milk per person.
The amount of meat produced for a given animal varies significantly around the world, depending on the production system. Livestock production has a major impact on the environment through greenhouse gas emissions, land and water use. Beef and lamb have much greater environmental impacts than pork and poultry.
Is Meat Bad For You?
Processed meat and red meat are rather harmful to us. Although you could argue that Inuits mostly solely eat meat and have a life expectancy of about 73 years, you cannot neglect the fact that this is the case only because they eat the complete animal with all vitamins. Normal meat consumption has little to no vitamin C e.g. which makes us sick and more susceptible in the long run.
The nutrients in meat are absorbed faster than in plants and do not need as long in the digestion but this is individually conditioned. Fish is probably the healthiest. There rises another problem though. Plastic pollution has a negative impact on the health of our oceans and wildlife. Five grams of tiny plastic particles enter a person’s gastrointestinal tract in an average week. That’s roughly equivalent to a credit card, according to MedUni Vienna.
High-income countries generate more plastic waste per person. Photo by Naja Bertolt Jensen on Unsplash However, the risk of plastic entering the oceans depends on how plastic waste is managed. High-income countries have very effective waste management systems; mismanaged waste — and plastic ending up in the oceans — is therefore very rare.
Poor waste management in many middle- and low-income countries means that these countries are the main contributors to global plastic pollution in the oceans. Therefore, improving waste management systems around the world is critical to reducing plastic pollution.
Processing meat means adding certain chemicals to the meat, by curing, smoking, sorting or fermenting. Or in other words, making it tasty. Bacon, ham, salami, sausage and hot dogs contain additives that are harmful to us. Such as nitrates or nitrites, which damage the DNA in our digestive system, and can then lead to cancer.
The WHO reviewed over 800 studies over 20 years, and concluded that processed meat is strongly linked to an increased risk of colon cancer. For every 50 grams of processed meat a day, your cancer risk increases by 18%. In terms of cancer risk, processed meat is now in the same league as plutonium, asbestos and smoking.
The WHO stresses that its research focuses only on whether or not something causes cancer, not on how great the risk is.
Processed meat is also believed to significantly increase the risk of diabetes, strokes, and cardiovascular disease. It also makes a difference under what conditions the original animal lived since it’s common to feed many antibiotics to animals to prevent disease.
The high-fat content and cholesterol levels cause clogging of the arteries when too much is consumed. Furthermore, animal husbandry is a big factor in global warming and the animals suffer endless agonies just to be slaughtered.
High consumption of both processed and red meat could increase the likelihood of premature death (under age 75) by 29%.
However, there is little to worry about if meat consumption is enjoyed in moderation, e.g. once a week. After all, it’s completely up to you.