Don't Forget Red Meat Is Killing The Planet

New research says the links between red meat and cancer are "weak" but let's not forget about the environment.
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The jury is well and truly out when it comes to red and processed meat.

While the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) advise the public to cut down their consumption to reduce their cancer risk, a new study puts bacon back on the menu.

The controversial study, led by 14 researchers from seven countries, says previous evidence linking red meat to cancer is “weak” and therefore it does not warrant people being told to cut down. The team claim their analysis offers the “most up-to-date evidence on the topic”.

“Based on the research, we cannot say with any certainty that eating red or processed meat causes cancer, diabetes or heart disease,” commented study author Bradley Johnston, associate professor at Dalhousie University in Canada.

“Our bottom line recommendation – which is a weak recommendation based on low-quality evidence – is that for the majority of people, not everyone, continuing their red and processed meat consumption is the right approach.”

WCRF and WHO recommendations currently advise people to avoid processed meat altogether or eat very little of it, while limiting red meat to about three portions a week.

The latest study has met with criticism from some academics, who argue that revoking all warnings on red meat could put the nation’s health at risk.

Dr Marco Springmann, senior researcher on environmental sustainability and public health at the University of Oxford, called the findings “a skewed reading and presentation of the scientific evidence”.

Meanwhile Emma Shields, Cancer Research UK’s health information manager, said: “Processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer – there’s a mass of evidence that shows this.”

But while debate continues about the potential health outcomes of eating red meat, there is one thing we know for sure: the red meat industry damages the environment.

A 2018 study published in the journal Nature found current levels of meat production will “greatly affect the Earth’s environment” and emit 5.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide if not curbed.

And in August, UN climate change experts said switching to a plant-based diet was one of the best changes you could make to help the environment.

Adisa Azapagic, professor of sustainable chemical engineering at The University Manchester, previously told HuffPost UK red meat has a greater negative impact on the environment than other types of meat, such as poultry.

“Red meat, such as beef and lamb, has high carbon footprint because cows and sheep burp methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas, contributing to global warming and climate change,” she explained.

“Therefore, cutting down on beef and lamb can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and related climate change impacts.”

So, until we hear a clear and definite ruling on red meat from the health community, it’s worth cutting down anyway for the sake of the planet.