While many of the health complications associated with eating red meat stem from naturally-occurring causes, there are many other risks that all industrially-produced meat pose to us because of how we treat animals. As a result of farmers’ efforts to maximize efficiency of meat production, animals get pumped full of chemicals that are passed into the humans that eat them. In other words, we developed animal agriculture in such a way that seems to actually be threatening us. Well done, society.
In addition to energy-depleting grains, animals are fed growth hormones and antibiotics to induce rapid weight gain. The reasoning is this: the larger the animal, the more meat there is that can be sold for profit. While there is no conclusive evidence that consuming hormones via meat (or dairy) is harmful to humans, it has been linked to premature puberty in girls as well as increased risks of breast and prostate cancer. More evidence exists, however, showing a direct relationship between ingestion of antibiotics via animal products and bacterial resistance in humans. Antibiotics are given to animals to prevent diseases such as E. Coli, of course, but they are also used for sub-therapeutic purposes: to make the animals gain weight. In any case, while the animal may be kept safe from a disease, the human that eats it could very well become more susceptible.
Pesticides are another synthetic material that ends up in our bodies via consumed food. Most attention is paid to their presence on produce, since chemicals are more or less directly applied to growing crops, but these crops are also fed to animals we eat. The consequences of indirectly consuming pesticides are still debated, but it is recommended that pregnant women and babies avoid pesticide-grown food due to concerns about its effects on a developing brain and links to cancer.
Pesticide production is an example of manufacture that generates dioxins, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that are by-products of industrial processes such as bleaching as well as natural events like volcanic eruptions. These pollutants contaminate soils and grain feed and are then consumed by animals and stored in their fat. As roughly 11 billion pounds of animal fat are recycled into animal feed every year, dioxin bioaccumulates in more and more animals. When humans eat products containing animal fat, they are ingesting these compounds – which are carcinogenic and damaging to the immune, reproductive, and developing nervous systems.
Many of these potential problems require further research, but what does that mean for us? I don’t fear modernization per se, but seeing these connections between serious health concerns and the increasingly synthetic and industrial aspects of our meat supply worries me. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I still eat meat, and I acknowledge my personal hypocrisy. I just wish there wasn’t such a high global demand for meat, so that people wouldn’t feel compelled to produce it en masse by potentially hazardous means.
There’s plenty more where that came from, and you can expect to see it next week.