back to article Amount of meat we eat will barely affect future climate change

For the last few days, the mainstream British media have been assuring us that rich westerners must seriously cut down the amount of meat we eat - and the rest of the world must keep to its current meat-light diet - in order to stave off planetary apocalypse. But what are the facts? The reports are all based on this paper in the …

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Meh

Shame Lewis felt the need

To include his last paragraph. On the surface at least his arguement seem to make sense for once.

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Holmes

Re: Shame Lewis felt the need

I agree that generally the rebuttal of the arguments in the paper make sense, plus I love my beef, bacon etc so not about to give it up. I just have an issue with this phrase, though: "compelling most people in the world to remain on their present not-very-nutritious diets", which is jumping from arguments of meat-eating vs non meat-eating to nutritious vs non-nutritious diets.

People in third world-countries have non-nutritious diets because they don't have enough food. It's perfectly possible for them to have nutritious diets even with minimal meat intake, and increasing farming productivity + reducing meat consumption is most definitely not compelling anyone to a non-nutritious diet.

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Balanced View

And I like the key message here, read the numbers not the hype!

It is far too easy to divert people away from the key impactors (such as coal which is suggested here) into something relatively pointless such as eating less meat.

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Hmm.

"We conclude that future improvements in agricultural efficiency, especially in the livestock sector, could make a decisive contribution to tackling climate change, but this would be maximised if the global trend towards more meat intensive diets can be reversed."

Given that there's a good amount of research showing that high-meat-intake diets have negative implications (increased probability of bowel cancer, etc) for people generally, I think that Lewis' dismissal of this research is a bit silly (but not particularly unexpected).

It's also worth noting the bit that he seems to have ignored:

"We find that there is only room for dedicated bio-energy crops if there is a marked increase in the efficiency of food production (sustained annual yield growth of 1%, shifts towards more efficient animals like pigs and poultry, and increased recycling of wastes and residues)."

That seems compatible with the general idea that changing our eating habits particularly away from beef.

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I came up with an even more efficient system.

Instead of growing plants and feeding them to cows who turn 99% of it into cow shit and 1% into meat - turn them into Hob-Nobs instead and eat those.

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Anonymous Coward

Its my understanding that its 90/10 rather than 99/1.

It takes about 10 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef.

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Unhappy

grain 2 beef bad, grass to beef good

agreed, but feeding cattle real cattle food, ie grass, turns waste biomass into food. conclusion; total food resources increase. Much grazing land is marginal for food cropping, but grows grasses adequately to support ruminants. Also feeding grains to cattle produces unhealthy to eat meat while grass fed meat is relatively safe and tasty. I for one am fed up with the rennaisance of the medieval flagellants of the greenie and PC brigade, so Lewis is sport on.

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Re: grain 2 beef bad, grass to beef good

Grass to mutton better? I'm still waiting to see some campaigning veggies trying to get their combine harvester up a Welsh mountain.

There are figures on grain / meat ratios here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feed_conversion_ratio (wikipedia MUST be true) but don't deal with land usage.

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Stop

Only one number that really matters

Seven billion is too many

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Re: Only one number that really matters

I trust you'll do the decent thing, then, Gareth? You may borrow my pearl-handled revolver, if you like.

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Happy

Re: Only one number that really matters

I haven't reproduced and yes, I shall remove myself from the planet before I become a drain on care budgets. In the meantime, any attempt to fiddle around the edges just ignores the fact we are overpopulated.

What have you done?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Only one number that really matters

@Gareth - So what you're saying - apart from the try-to-shock meme of "there's too many humans we need to die out a bit." - is that you're on board with the getting rid of humans, in that you're not going to breed, but you're not on board with it making any difference, if you were, you'd be killing yourself.

Your argument is flawed and immoral.

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Re: Only one number that really matters

Birth control ?

Make contraceptives available, easily and cheap to developing countries ?

Convince the religious leaders that contraception is good , and urge their local representatives to spread that message to their congregations ?

Have governments all over the world use incentives to keep the number of kids per family low ?

You can try to control the number of people on this planet without immediately having to go to the extremes of mass-extermination.

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Re: Only one number that really matters

@AC 12:20

No, I think what Gareth is on board with is understanding the concept of limited resources and not contributing to potential overpopulation, on a purely personal basis.

How you get from there to "immoral" is beyond me, given that you've mentioned no contextual framework for such a judgement to be made.

Don't let that stop you from being a total bellend, though. I mean, it hasn't thus far, right?

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Re: Only one number that really matters

"Your argument is flawed and immoral."

What's flawed or immoral about saying there's a finite number of people the planet can support and that if the human species is to not negatively impact itself, it must keep below that number? That's certain, all that's left is arguing over what that number is. Now Gareth says 7bn and I'm inclined to say that is already too high, but you haven't argued why his number is right or wrong, you've declared that the entire argument is flawed, which it is not.

As to means of population reduction - we have one ethical and provenly effective method available right now: better education and work equality for women.

Oh, and this article is pretty poor. Who cares about the CO2 from cows, etc.? The environmental reasons for eating less meat and moving to a more vegetarian or vegan diet, is that it causes less major and negative shifts in the environment such as massive deforestation in South America to grow cattle feed for the US. Who I think we all agree could on average cut back on the meat at least a little bit.

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Re: "What have you done?"

Why should I do anything?

If governments around the world switched electricity generation away from fossil fuels and towards nuclear, and instigate a escalating tax on fossil fuels so that consumers (and industry) switch fixed infrastructure over to electrical power wherever possible on the normal maintainance/replacement cycle then we could reduce our CO2 footprint by a factor of several over the next couple of decades without really noticing the cost. No-one is even bothering to model such a reduction, apparently believing it to be impossible, but we already know how to do it.

Likewise, if governments around the world switched social policies away from Bronze Age misogyny then we could watch world population stabilise as educated women all said "fuck this for a game of soldiers". Again, this is something we already know, but "we" doesn't appear to include politicians.

But if governments do neither of these things, anything *I* do will merely punish me (and my quality of life) for giving a damn whilst the rest of the world goes to hell in a handcart. By advancing the idea that individuals can make a difference, *you* are part of the problem. Individuals need to know that the problem can only be solved at a governmental level, that we already know how to solve it, and that innumerate politicians are the only thing standing in the way.

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Happy

Re:Re: Only one number that really matters

You want him to shoot you- with your own gun? That's rather sporting of you!

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FAIL

Re: Re: Only one number that really matters

Oh h4rm0ny, if only you had studied science, economics or just anything that required you to develop a smidgen of analytical ability!

".....What's flawed or immoral about saying there's a finite number of people the planet can support ...." Nothing immoral, but plenty flawed. If you took every living person on the planet you could squeeze them all onto the Isle of Wight with space to spare. You supply absolutely no reasoning as to why we are "over-populating" the planet beyond your own socio-politically-induced guilt.

"....The environmental reasons for eating less meat and moving to a more vegetarian or vegan diet, is that it causes less major and negative shifts in the environment such as massive deforestation in South America to grow cattle feed for the US...." Great, so you stop the evil burger industry and instead replace it with the evil corn/wheat/vegetables industry. Countries in the 3rd and 2nd World economic arenas will concentrate on generating foreign revenue by growing arable crops for export. An example of this is how Egyptian farmers concentrates on growing potatoes for export to Europe. In short, there will still be chopping down of the Amazon rainforest, but instead they locals will be planting it with whatever veggie or arable crop is in demand in the US, Europe, etc. If you ask us to replace meat with veggies then we still need to source the veggies.

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Re: Only one number that really matters

@Gerhard

I'm actually all for the government incentives. There are a lot of people out there who just see children as a way to get extra money from the government. I'm not saying all people, but rather than having as many children as they can afford to care of, there are families who have as many kids as possible because it means handouts.

Personally I'd be for government rulings that lower the amount of benefits almost across the board. Rather than giving parents money to care for children, go back to a voucher system so they can't spend the money on booze and cigs.

I honestly think the same could be applied to most forms of welfare, if they have kids because they want kids then vouchers should be enough to get them clothed, food etc. If they want kids because it means more money for them to spend on booze then they wouldn't get it. It'd cut down on kids among certain groups at least, and it might cut back on the kids who grow up to be degenerates because they learnt from their parents.

I think this is one of the only things we could implament which might actually work.

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Re: h h4rmony

"You supply absolutely no reasoning as to why we are "over-populating" the planet beyond your own socio-politically-induced guilt."

You clearly didn't understand my point or have chosen to ignore it. The attack on the argument wasn't that the number of people (7bn) was too much, they said the argument was fundamentally flawed and immoral. Now unless you think there's no point at which there could be too many of us and we ought to start cutting back, then you're not addressing what I've said.

"Great, so you stop the evil burger industry and instead replace it with the evil corn/wheat/vegetables industry"

Basically yes. It takes a lot less ground to support someone by direct food growing than via cow. Or do you take issue with that.

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Re: Only one number that really matters

"It'd cut down on kids among certain groups at least, and it might cut back on the kids who grow up to be degenerates because they learnt from their parents."

For that, I love you as my own brother. I agree, a lot of people do have kids for the benefits, a bit pointless really and it truly shows what a kind parent they are. But who knows what goes on through their minds. Considering how much The Gov wanna cut back, I don't see why they don't implement it.

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Re: Only one number that really matters

"I'm actually all for the government incentives. There are a lot of people out there who just see children as a way to get extra money from the government. "

With the proviso of course that this is in *developed* countries with govt run *welfare* systems (and typically *falling* overall birth rates).

While in the *developing* world you'll die without someone to look after you if your old age (which won't be what Westerners consider "old").

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Go

Re: Only one number that really matters

http://www.vhemt.org/

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Re: "What have you done?"

ah Ken, what a call for dictatorship, of the learned I assume ? Not with their track record. If you include the tribal old men and women in the pollies pejoritive, who maintain the historical oppression of people, then agreed. If you mean those futile talking places for the power brokers, nope. In the remains of west it is the individuals who vote pollies in. It is up to individuals to vote intelligently, altho I confess a severe lack of wise candidates in my own political ruins. as for the rest of the world, the sooner they are left to discover their stone age stupidity does not work by seeing systems that do, the better. Self interest works well when a society see mutual benefits. As for population stabilisation, only one change has been proven to work non-coercively; increase in standard of living.

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Pint

Re: Only one number that really matters

The following might be considered counterintuitive, so I'll type slowly.

High child mortality leads to overpopulation. Read it again.

Most humans instinctively want to reproduce themselves. They want high odds of success in this mission. 50/50 isn't good enough. 95% is probably about right. 100% is not required.

If the child mortality is low and you want two kids, then you have two kids. This will almost certainly lead to several grandchildren and one would eventually die happy.

If the child mortality is high and you want two kids, then you might need eight babies to provide 95% odds of having two survive. But under these circumstances the average could be four that survive. In other words, to guaranty two the average would overshoot and result in overpopulation.

As soon as the child mortality problem is fixed, population growth tapers off.

I'm convinced that this is the root cause. It may then be layered over with cultural and religious reinforcements. But if you fix child mortality then the human overpopulation problem will fix itself in a generation or two.

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Re: Only one number that really matters

"less major and negative shifts in the environment such as massive deforestation in South America to grow cattle feed for the US"

80% of recent South American deforestation has been to produce corn et al for bio fuels, not meat. Quit this biofuel nonsense and we'll have more forests, and millions more people will be able to afford eat properly.

A much bigger effect than trying to make the human race into vegans (which our bodies have not evolved to do)

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Re: h h4rmony

"fundamentally flawed and immoral. Now unless you think there's no point at which there could be too many of us and we ought to start cutting back"

I think you'll find "cutting back" is the fundamentally immoral part. Most people I know think that killing humans because you've decided there's too many for your liking, or forcing abortions/population controls (like China does now) is pretty immoral...

"It takes a lot less ground to support someone by direct food growing than via cow. Or do you take issue with that."

How about in Australia where we got millions of acres of ground to fill with cows that arable crops like corn can't grow on, and humans don't want to live on? - no problem with space here.

You are just assuming this is a zero sum game, where crops are necessarily replaced by cows - that isn't the case at all.

Its certainly no argument to eliminate meat, it just highlights your closed mind

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Re: Only one number that really matters

Gerhard den Hollander, I upvoted you, but feel I should point out that some "government incentives", e.g. a one-child policy with forced termination as currently used in some places, is approaching the extreme of mass-extermination.

Also, reducing population needs careful long-term planning, note the panic about population decline and elderly healthcare.

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Re: h h4rmony

"I think you'll find "cutting back" is the fundamentally immoral part. Most people I know think that killing humans because you've decided there's too many for your liking, or forcing abortions/population controls (like China does now) is pretty immoral..."

Then may I suggest you read all of what I wrote rather than just selecting bits that will annoy you. I wrote that we have a very effective and ethical means of reducing the population which is greater education and work equality for women. It's provenly effective and has greater long-term impact than oppressive governments can manage with one-child policies (which also lead to gender imbalances in some cultures).

"How about in Australia where we got millions of acres of ground to fill with cows that arable crops like corn can't grow on, and humans don't want to live on? - no problem with space here"

And how about other areas where we don't? I see you like to play the "scary numbers" game. You should join Friends of the Earth, they like waving the word millions about without context as well in an attempt to bolster their argument. I have no idea where you got your figure. "Millions" is a pretty astonishingly large variation of error, btw. You could mean a 2m, you could mean 5m, which would mean you were casually hand-waving whole multiples of deviation. It suggests you don't actually know and are just (Greenpeace style) plucking numbers you think sound good. They don't. For a start, do you actually know how much an acre is? It's quite small actually. It's 0.004km^2. Did you know from 2000 to 2005, the mean average amount of rain forest destroyed was 5.5million acres per year? It's not massive as a proportion but it is ongoing. How quickly is Australia forming new land? Now some of it is due to biofuels (but the poster earlier is incorrect that it is most - the big majority is actually cattle feed, and I'm citing the Centre for International Foresty Research, not just stating something I think like the earlier poster). It is undeniable that meat consumption is leading to massive negative environmental change.

Also, quite frankly, I think I need to see some actual figures for your comments about using non-suitable land for pasture. It shows an ignorance of modern beef production. For the most part, modern farmers far prefer to keep cattle in a small and controlled site and feed them intensively on imported feed (e.g. soy from South American rainforests) than have them roaming up and down hillsides burning up all that lovely energy roaming around being cows, rather than in a few small fields turning it straight into meat. Plus the rounding them all up, etc. You are aware that most land that could be used for pasture but would be difficult for crops is due to the terrain being uneven or fragmented? Makes herding them around a pain. In short, whether there's land available or not, farmers prefer to just use cattled feed as evidenced by the US and elsewhere. In short, I think you don't know what you're talking about.

This meme of using land for pasture that is unsuitable for any food crops is becoming some sort of Gospel Truth. I would like to see some actual figures. How much land? Why is it unsuitable and is it unsuitable for all crops or just not a massive field that can be ploughed by machine for cereal crops? Don't just repeat something you read from another poster and liked, back it up.

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Facepalm

Re: h h4rmony

".....You clearly didn't understand ...." Oh, I understand EXACTLY where you and the other greenies are coming from.

".....they said the argument was fundamentally flawed and immoral....." Which I addressed by saying it wasn't immoral, just stupid.

".....It takes a lot less ground to support someone by direct food growing than via cow....." Which ignores the fact I can keep cows or other herd animals on ground that is unsuitable for crop growing.

"....Now unless you think there's no point at which there could be too many of us and we ought to start cutting back...." D'uh! What I am saying is that point has not been reached and will not be reached (even at increasing levels of consumption) for decades yet. However, it is likeloy that long before that one of the old Four Horsemen will strike again. That's assuming you know about the Four Horseman...? Oh, I suppose I'd better explain that too. In monosyllables.

The original Four Horsemen (Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death) came out of an interpretation of the New Testament referring to the Apocalypse. Ignoring that fairytale background, historians and economists have applied the idea to population control along the lines that should a population grow too large, Nature will apply a balancing force. In previous history we've had man's population balanced out by any of the four and often by more than one at once. Should we eventually reach the point where our scientific development fails to outstrip the demand for resources (in this case, arable land), we'll either starve, die due to disease taking advantage of our poor diet, die younger due to our poor diet, or die in wars fighting over the resources. Essentially, we'll end up back to a practical population level eventually.

In your case, we have a fifth Horseman called Fashion. This covers people that can't follow science and instead base all their life planning around whatever some fashionable pundit of the day tells them is "a good idea". Thankfully, the extreme victims of Fashion usually exclude themselves from society and end up in secluded cult enviornments (monasteries, hippie communes, etc) where they stop being a pain for the rest of us.

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references, references, references ...

Have you noticed that Lewis constantly feels the need to refer to his own comments rather than the original research that triggered the comments in the first place. So it's quite difficult to see if his assertions about any of these facts are founded in anything but his own opinion: climate debate on the reg has turned into an echo chamber in which only one voice can be heard...

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Re: references, references, references ...

Yes, and to even call it a "debate" flatters it; it's more like reading a Clarkson column. I'm not entirely sure what the IT angle is, either.

Nice bass work on Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by the way.

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min

Re: references, references, references ...

he can't have been the guy..not enough West Ham in the post!

i'd rather read Lewis than some of the rubbish i read in the papers/hear in the other media. at least using his antagonistic stance i can consider my own position rather than have it rammed down my throat by some even sillier pro-vegetarian 'writer' who has less comprehension of modelling than a toad has of space travel.

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Joke

Re: references, references, references ...

"less comprehension of modelling than a toad has of space travel."

The Toadassians want a croak with you.

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Pint

Re: references, references, references ...

Then click twice.

It's perfectly reasonable to provide outside references via previous columns on the same subject. It provides the arguable benefit of additional context at the cost of you having to follow one more link if you wish to reach the original external source.

The limited space of a column (as compares to a 47-page paper) essentially forces this sort of approach. It's not practical to incorporate all the previous context into each new column. If you're actually interested enough to try to read the original source, then you can take a few seconds to review the context of the previous column(s) where those links may eventually be provided. Or use Google.

Disclaimer: this doesn't imply I agree with everything he writes (the Clarkson comparison is apt), but the role of a skeptic is absolutely critical in all important debates. Those that denigrate the "climate skeptics" have themselves become unthinking, unscientific, essentially-religious, dangerous zealots. Even if they're actually right.

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Re: references, references, references ...

"Lewis constantly feels the need to refer to his own comments rather than the original research"

You mean Lewis is being a journalist - how dare he, its only what he's paid for!!!

If you only want the words of the original researcher then just read their paper/press release and quit whinging...

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Meh

Re: references, references, references ...

My preference would be that links/referral materials be directly from the paper/press release. Anything that doesn't involve mine/bomb disposal is far beyond the purveyance of Don Page. In an ideal world journalists would only report the facts. Not their own opinions. When a journalist refers to their own previous opinion pieces as fact it mucks up the whole trust basis between science and journalism. Scientists hate that... Readers should too...

Current Gen journalists get by quoting their own 'facts' by linking to a very expensive journal and/or they know that very few of the 'Internet People' will actually read anything they link to. If you're really interested you'll pay: Many journalists count on the fact you won't pony up the funds. They aren't paying for access to the journals either. Each time an El Reg visitor clicks on a link is what pays for their journal subscriptions. I'm fine with that. I just wish they read it those articles scientifically and leave the pontificating at home. El Reg used to be that way. Not anymore I guess.

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Angel

If God had wanted us all to be vegetarians...

he wouldn't have made meat so tasty.

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Re: If God had wanted us all to be vegetarians...

Funny thing is, that's literally true. Apart from the God bit, obviously.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: If God had wanted us all to be vegetarians...

If the Juju had meant us not to eat people/He wouldn't have made us of meat!

(Flanders and Swann - The Reluctant Cannibal. Ah, the days of my misspent youth...)

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Re: If God had wanted us all to be vegetarians...

Argh! Yes! I'd forgotten that one! Thank you.

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Re: If God had wanted us all to be vegetarians...

... he wouldn't have made animals out of meat (by Jo Brand, IS2R)

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Re: If God had wanted us all to be vegetarians...

Yup I'm a member of PETA too:

P eople

E ating

T asty

A nimals

:-)

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Anonymous Coward

IT angle?

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IT Angle

Re:IT angle?

2 degrees- see TFA.

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Meh

Only partial picture

While your article might be accurate regarding meat consumption and CO2 levels, one must understand this (CO2 reduction) is only one of the arguments vegans and vegetarians are shielding towards reduced meet consumption.

One very significant argument is that our human bodies are simply not evolved into consuming the amount of meat products, included in the western mans diet nowdays. For thousands of years (actually until 100 or 200 years ago) the level of meat consumption was much less that the present one in the western world thus a reduction in meet consumption will also have a personal positive health effect.

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Re: Only partial picture

So why are people living longer? Oh and our ancestors used to eat it raw.

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Childcatcher

Re: Only partial picture

"One very significant argument is that our human bodies are simply not evolved into consuming the amount of meat products, included in the western mans diet nowdays. For thousands of years (actually until 100 or 200 years ago) the level of meat consumption was much less that the present one in the western world thus a reduction in meet consumption will also have a personal positive health effect."

I'm reminded of the picture of the 50 year old vegan who looks like a troll and the 50 year old chef who loves butter, eggs, meats, & cheeses and looks like quite the hot dish on her own. What is a "personal postiive health effect" for one, might not be for another. In truth if you really want to improve the health of the typical modern human dump the "fortified flour products," corn syrup derivatives, etc. that completely screw up a modern human's insulin levels.

With regard to protein consumption specifically, I'll observe that the average height, size, etc. of the modern human is significantly larger than even just a few hundred years ago - it may be that protein consumption of a few hundred years ago wasn't as adequate to a positive health effect as one might assume on face value.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Only partial picture

"One very significant argument is that our human bodies are simply not evolved into consuming the amount of meat products, included in the western mans diet nowdays".

While understandable given the amount of misinformation circulating, this is very likely the exact opposite of the truth. There is reason to believe that eating a lot of meat was one of the critical factors that contributed to our evolution as homo sapiens - meat provides much more energy than plants, as well as all the nutrients we need. (True: check it out if you doubt me). We seem to have evolved as hunters: healthy humans whose bodies have not atrophied due to "civilized" lifestyles can still run further without having to stop than virtually any other mammal. A suitably trained runner (such as a Tarahumara Indian) can comfortably jog 100 miles non-stop, whereas a horse, deer, or even wolf cannot.

So our prehistoric ancestors probably lived for approaching 1 million years as hunter-gatherers, opportunistically eating whatever was available locally - from bison and mammoths to hares and mice, seafood, bugs, birds and their eggs, and whatever fruit and nuts they could find. Until very recently such tribes as the Inuit and Masai lived essentially on meat and fat - eked out, in the case of the Masai, by milk and blood.

About 14,000 years ago farming was invented, and large numbers of people began to appear in settlements. The land could not begin to support so many hunter-gatherers, so they had to farm and live on bread and other cereals, vegetables, and whatever small amounts of meat they could afford. Over time, meat became almost an exclusive privilege of the rich and powerful - for example, in medieval times venison from the deer in England's royal forests could only be eaten by the king and his household. Incidentally, examination of human remains has shown that the palaeolithic hunter-gatherers, like modern ones, were taller, stronger, and healthier than the farmers who succeeded and replaced them.

The epidemic of obesity that has overtaken the "civilized" world has coincided almost exactly with increased consumption of sugar, refined flour products, and processed foods and drinks; meanwhile per-capita consumption of plain unadulterated meat, fish, and dairy products has fallen.

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