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The Connection and the Solution

“Improving dietary habits is a societal,
not just an individual problem.
Therefore it demands a population-based,
multi-sectoral, multi-disciplinary,
and culturally relevant approach.”

WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity & Health 2004


National and International Figures 8
Dietary Factors 8
Costs of ill Health 9

Obesity 9
Cardiovascular Disease 10
Diabetes 10
Cancer 11
Swine Flu 13


The Link 14
Continuing Trend 15
Future Growth and Subsidies 15


Effects of Greenhouse Gases 16
Emissions & Diet 17
Locally Sourced Food 18
Land and Water Use 18
Food Insecurity 20
Deforestation 20
Species Extinctions 21


The Move Towards Plant-based Alternatives 22




The contents of this publication
have been endorsed by the
following health professionals
and scientists.

Dr. Richard Schwartz


Diana Blicharski M.D.

Assistant Professor, USA

Khanhmei Wong, DPM


Professor Peter Mensz

Research Scientist, Geophysicist,
What we eat is important in the creation and prevention of major
INTRODUCTION diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and obes-
ity. The detrimental effects of saturated fats and lack of fibre are
well documented in high profile studies, such as the European Pro-
spective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC), the largest study of diet
and health ever undertaken (over 500,000 participants from 10 Eu-
ropean countries over a 5 - 15 year period), and many other studies
in respected scientific publications; these studies also show that a
good diet including fruits and vegetables can be a powerful weap-
on for the prevention, even reversal, of chronic illness.

Related to our health and diet is the pressing issue of climate

change. In the report, ‘Managing the Health Effects of Climate
Change’, a joint commission between the Lancet and University Col-
lege London (UCL), lead author, professor Anthony Costello states:
“there are major health benefits from low-carbon lifestyles, which can
reduce obesity, heart and lung disease, diabetes and stress” (UCL News
2009). Our food choices, which are a contributory factor to major
chronic diseases, also have a direct impact on climate change and
our planet’s finite resources; similarly, climate change has direct and
indirect impacts on human health.

This paper summarises the medical evidence which links the dra-
matic rise of major chronic disease worldwide to high intakes of
saturated fats and animal protein, and the reversal of these once
a healthful diet containing more vegetables, grains and legumes is
adopted. It also highlights how these same food choices can have
a very significant impact on Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GGEs) and
climate change. The paper shows how eating further down the
food chain is not only more sustainable and supports good health,
but is also one of the quickest and most effective ways that we can
help mitigate climate change – more than by reducing emissions
from transport. It is hoped that through government leadership vi-
tal plans can be promptly adopted for the implementation of such
dietary measures for the benefit of people’s health, national econo-
mies and for addressing the many environmental crises we are all
facing. 7
National and International Figures
In the UK, around 70,000 fewer people would die prematurely each
OVERVIEW year if diets matched nutritional guidelines on fruit and vegetable,
saturated fat, added sugar and salt intake (Strategy Unit 2008). The
EPIC Study has found that diets rich in fruit and vegetables are as-
sociated with reduced mortality (Am J Clin Nutr 2007). Globally,
the WHO has stated: “Low intake of fruit and vegetables is estimated
to cause about 31 percent of ischaemic heart disease, 11 percent of
strokes worldwide and 19 percent of gastrointestinal cancers. Overall,
2.7 million deaths are attributable to low fruit and vegetable intake”
(WHO 2004).

Dietary Factors
Data show a major change in diet at a global level since the middle
of the twentieth century whereby traditional, largely plant-based
diets have been replaced by high fat, energy dense diets that are mi-
cronutrient poor, with a substantial content of animal based foods
(WHO/FAO 2003). This change, as well as an increase in sedentary
lifestyles and smoking, has had disastrous effects on health, with the
burden of chronic disease rapidly increasing worldwide. Many stud-
ies have implicated dietary factors in chronic disease: according to
the WHO, a diet insufficient in fruit and vegetables is an independ-
ent risk factor for cardiovascular disease and cancer, including lung,
stomach, colorectal and oesophageal cancers (WHO Media Centre
2007, CVD). In 2001, chronic disease caused approximately 60% of
the 56.5 million reported deaths in the world and 46% of the global
burden of disease (WHO 2002). Cardiovascular disease accounts for
almost half of chronic disease deaths; obesity and diabetes are on
the rise and appearing earlier in life (WHO/FAO 2003). The rapid in-
crease in chronic disease is not limited to developed regions: devel-
oping countries are also plagued (WHO 2002). It has been estimated
that by 2020, chronic disease will account for almost three quarters
of all deaths worldwide (WHO 1998). Yet chronic diseases are largely
preventable, and primary prevention is considered to be the most
cost-effective and sustainable course of action (WHO/FAO 2003).

There is strong evidence that vegetables and fruits are protective,

whilst the rapid worldwide growth in meat consumption (which ac-
counts for nearly one fifth of global GGEs) is both directly contrib-
uting to certain diseases and exacerbating climate change (Lancet
2007). However, although the consumption of fruits and vegeta-
bles plays a vital role in chronic disease prevention, at present only
a small minority of the world’s population consumes their recom-
mended average intake (WHO/FAO 2003).
Costs of ill Health
Diet-related ill health costs the UK National Health Service (NHS)
£6 billion each year (J Epidemiol 2005). With the increase in major
chronic diseases, medical costs are on the rise and those attribut-
able to meat eating are substantial. The Physicians Committee for
Responsible Medicine in the USA estimated that between $29-61
billion spent on US healthcare in 1992 was linked to meat con-
sumption, adding that the cost would likely have been higher if
stroke and other arterial disease had been included (Science Direct

DISEASES Obesity has reached pandemic proportions. There are at least 400
million obese adults and over 1.5 billion overweight people (age 15+)
in the world; at least 20 million children under the age of 5 are over-
weight. The WHO estimates that 10% of children and 20% of adults in
Europe and Central Asia will be obese by 2010 unless action is taken.
In England, almost 1 in 4 adults are obese, and if it remains unchecked,
by 2050, 9 in 10 adults will be overweight or obese. Worldwide, about
2.5 million deaths annually are attributed to overweight/obesity (WHO
Media Centre 2006, Obesity).

Costs of obesity are considerable: the NHS in the UK spends £4.2 bil-
lion/year on overweight/obesity, forecast to more than double by
2050. The cost to the economy is £16 billion/year, predicted to rise to
£50 billion by 2050 (DoH, Obesity).

Risk factors for obesity and overweight are rising dramatically (WHO
Media Centre 2006, Obesity), but overweight, obesity and related chron-
ic diseases are largely preventable (WHO Media Centre 2006, Obesity). A
move from saturated to unsaturated fats, increasing consumption of
fruit and vegetables, as well as legumes, whole grains and nuts, limit-
ing sugar and increasing physical activity are recommended measures
for prevention and control (WHO Media Centre 2006, Obesity). Choles-
terol lowering foods, including viscous fibres (eg, fibres from oats and
barley) and plant sterols, increase the effectiveness of diet in treating
hypercholesterolemia (high blood cholesterol) (JAMA 2003).
Cardiovascular Disease
Globally, around 17.5 million people died from cardiovascular dis-
ease (CVD) in 2005: some 30% of all deaths. By 2015, the number
of deaths from CVD is expected to be about 20 million (WHO Media
Centre 2007,CVD). It is the world’s number one killer. CVD also plac-
es a heavy burden on national economies: it is estimated that Chi-
na will lose $558 billion in national income from 2006-2015, due to
heart disease, stroke and diabetes (WHO Media Centre 2007, CVD).

Causes of CVD are well established: the most important are un-
healthy diet, physical inactivity and tobacco use. At least 80% of
premature deaths from heart disease and stroke could be avoided
through healthy eating, regular physical activity and avoiding to-
bacco smoke (WHO/FAO 2003).

A prospective study of over 6,000 participants examined the asso-

ciation of fruit and vegetable intake with longevity. The study rec-
ommended consuming 5-9 portions a day, associating this with a
lower risk of all-cause, cancer, and CVD death (Am J Epidemiol 2004).
Observational studies have found that those consuming large
amounts of fruit and vegetables have less coronary heart disease
and stroke (J Cardiovasc Risk 1999, Int J Epidemiol 1997). The Indian
Experiment of Infarct Survival (IEIS) found a low fat diet enriched
with fruit, vegetables, nuts and grains, compared with a standard
low fat diet, was associated with about 40% reduction in cardiac
events and 45% reduction in mortality after one year (BMJ 1992).

Diabetes has rapidly become a global pandemic. More than 180
million people worldwide have diabetes. This figure is expected
to more than double by 2030 without intervention. In 2005, an
estimated 1.1 million people died from diabetes. However, taking
into account deaths in which diabetes was a contributory condi-
tion (such as kidney failure or heart disease), this figure increases
to 2.9 million deaths per year (WHO Media Centre 2008, Diabetes).

Type II diabetes comprises 90% of people with diabetes around

the world. Until recently, this type of diabetes was seen only in
adults but it is now also occurring in obese children. Type II dia-
betes, being a partly nutritional disease, is substantially prevent-
able and sometimes reversible through nutritional methods and
regular exercise.

The EPIC Study (Norfolk), with nearly 22,000 participants and a 12
year follow up, was the first large population-based prospective
study to report that an energy-dense diet is positively associated
with incident diabetes independently of baseline BMI, total energy
intake and other risk factors (Am Diab Assoc 2008). Another pro-
spective study involving 42,500 male participants with 12 years of
follow up concluded that total and saturated fat intake was associ-
ated with a higher risk of type II diabetes (not independent of BMI)
and that frequent consumption of processed meats may increase
risk (Am Diab Assoc 2002).

A 17 year prospective cohort study, involving over 8,000 people,

concluded that a long-term diet including at least weekly meat
intake, compared to a vegetarian diet (zero meat), was associated
with a 74% increase in odds of diabetes; even after controlling for
weight and weight change, meat intake remained an important
risk factor (Ann Nutr Metab 2008). A comparison between vegetar-
ian and non-vegetarian diets comprising over 60,000 participants
over a 4 year period concluded that vegetarian diets were protec-
tive against type II diabetes after lifestyle and BMI were taken into
account (Am Diab Assoc 2009).
Diet trials and cohort studies have supported vegetarian diets or
increased consumption of plant foods in the prevention of diabe-
tes. Plant-based diets which contain a portfolio of natural products
and food forms benefit both the carbohydrate and lipid abnormali-
ties in diabetes. The use of soy protein, whole grain cereals and
legumes, nuts and viscous fibres have been shown to be advan-
tageous for prevention and treatment of type II diabetes and its
complications, such as cardiovascular and renal disease (Am J Clin
Nutr 2003).

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for 7.4
million deaths in 2004; this figure is projected to rise, with an esti-
mated 12 million deaths in 2030. Lung, stomach, colorectal, liver,
and breast cancer cause the most cancer deaths each year. More
than 30% of cancer deaths could be prevented by avoiding key risk
factors, which include tobacco and alcohol use, being overweight,
low fruit and vegetable intake and physical inactivity (WHO Media
Centre, Cancer 2009).

The EPIC Study has found that bowel cancer risk increases by a third
for people who consume two daily 80g portions of red or processed
meat, compared with those who eat just 20g a day (J Natl Cancer
Inst 2005). The World Cancer Research Fund recommends reducing
consumption of red and processed meats in its 2007 report, stat-
ing them to be a convincing cause of colorectal cancer (WCRF and
AICR 2007); and a meta-analysis of prospective studies published
through March 2006 also confirmed that high consumption of red
and processed meat is associated with increased risk of colorectal
cancer (Int J Cancer 2006). There is growing evidence linking red
meat to pancreatic and stomach cancers: EPIC found that people
eating over 100g of meat a day had over 3 times the risk of stomach
cancer (J Natl Cancer Inst 2006), while another study, involving over
500,000 individuals over 5 years, found that those consuming most
red or processed meat have a 40-50% higher risk of pancreatic can-
cer (Cancer Epidemiol 2007). Prostate cancer is associated with the
intake of animal fat, especially fat from red meat, which was the
conclusion of a prospective study involving 51,000 participants (J
Natl Cancer Inst 1993). Breast cancer has also been associated with
saturated fat intake, by a study of over 13,000 women over a four
year period (Lancet 2003a).

There is a further health risk associated with meat consumption:

cooking meat at high temperatures (eg. by frying) which produces
Heterocyclic Amines (HAs) which are associated with increased risk
of colorectal adenoma (Cancer Res 2005). Another study supports
the association between HA exposure and diet related tumours
(Mutat Res 1997).

To protect against cancer, many studies have demonstrated the

positive effect of an increased intake of fruits, vegetables and fibre.
Intake of high fibre foods was found by EPIC scientists to reduce
risk of bowel cancer by 40%, for those who doubled their fibre in-
take from a low average (Lancet 2003b); many large studies con-
firm these findings. EPIC has also found that a diet rich in fruit and
vegetables reduces the risk of mouth and oesophageal cancers
(Cancer Causes Control 2006) and showed an inverse association
between fruit consumption and lung cancer risk (Int J Cancer 2004).
Evidence from the Greek EPIC cohort study shows that consump-
tion of vegetables and fruits is inversely associated with the inci-
dence of cancer overall (Cancer Epidemiol 2008).

These findings clearly reveal that meat consumption is a contribu-

tory and significant risk factor in cancer, and that increasing con-
sumption of fruit and vegetables is important in its prevention.

Swine Flu
Swine Flu, now with over 255,000 officially reported cases world-
wide, has highlighted the exposure of humans to animal patho-
gens. The pandemic has been linked by experts to factory farms,
which are perfect breeding grounds for new viruses such as H1N1,
the genetic lineage of which has been traced to a strain that
emerged in US factory farms in 1998, when it spread and mutated
at an alarming rate (Wired Science 2009).

A comprehensive report by the Pew Commission, USA, on Indus-

trial Farm Animal Production has stated that IFAP practices are a
cause of concern to human health. The potential for pathogen
transfer from animals to humans is increased in IFAP because so
many animals are raised together in confined areas. The Commis-
sion states that ‘The continual cycling of viruses and other animal
pathogens in large herds or flocks increases opportunities for the
generation of novel viruses through mutation or recombinant
events that could result in more efficient human-to-human trans-
mission’ (Pew Commission).

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) tells us that 60% of
human pathogens and 75% of recent emerging diseases, includ-
ing TB, are zoonotic (OIE 2005). All areas of meat, poultry, egg, and
dairy production (e.g. meat transportation and processing, animal
rendering, manure handling practices) can contribute to food con-
tamination and zoonotic disease (Env H Persp 2007). Several high
profile recalls involving E. Coli O157:H7 and Salmonella serve as
reminders of the risk.

In the United States, approximately 73,000 illnesses each year,

leading to over 2,000 hospitalisations and 60 deaths, are caused by
E. Coli O157:H7 infection (Emerg Infect Dis 1999). Costs associated
with E. Coli O157:H7–related illness are estimated at $405 million
annually (J Food Protec 2005). Consumption of food and water con-
taminated with animal wastes is a major route of human infection.

Other meat-related diseases which can be fatal, such as CJD, Blue
Tongue Disease, Avian flu and Listeriosis, have also been a cause of
increased concern, and question the safety of eating meat. Meat
recalls around the world are becoming more frequent with millions
of kilos of meat found to be contaminated.

The Link
DIET, DISEASE AND Data show that the sharp increase in meat production and con-
GLOBAL WARMING sumption in the last 50 years has not only been linked to chronic
disease reaching pandemic proportions (WHO/FAO2003), but has
also caused environmental devastation, responsible for our plan-
et’s dwindling resources of land and water, further threatening
food security, among other things.

The recent report of a year-long commission held by the Lancet

and University College London, ‘Managing the Health Effects of Cli-
mate Change’, states that governments need to address patterns
of food consumption. “One starting point is to define and promote
a sustainable diet, which could mean reductions of the incidence of
heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. R K Pachauri, chair of the
IPCC, recently suggested that a reduction in meat consumption would
be a practical and helpful way for an individual to contribute to low-
er greenhouse gas emissions. Such policy would lead to reductions
in colorectal cancer and, probably, ischaemic heart disease” (Lancet

Many sectors contribute to global warming. However, one sector

is the largest producer of two of the most significant Greenhouse
Gases (GHGs), methane and nitrous oxide, both much more potent
than carbon dioxide (UN FAO 2006). This sector is also our single
largest user of land and water; a major cause of deforestation,
wide-scale land degradation and species loss; and a major polluter
of our rivers, oceans and drinking supplies: it is animal agriculture.
The UN’s 2006 report, ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow’, cites livestock
production ‘as one of the most significant contributors to the world’s
most pressing environmental problems, at every scale from local to
global’ (UN FAO 2006).

The link between an unhealthy, and unsustainable diet and the

major chronic diseases of today, hangs obtrusively over an im-
pending and certain global threat – climate change. Never before
have global awareness regarding the full detrimental health and
environmental impacts of meat consumption and a concerted ef-
fort towards a sustainable and healthy eating regimen, which re-
duces and/or eliminates meat from our diet, been of more impor-
tance, regardless of the wider habitual dietary practices.

Continuing Trend
Meat is the principal component in most people’s diet, and as such
is a main source of protein and iron for the majority: it has become
tradition to serve certain meat dishes in many cultures. Meat is also
a source of high saturated fat, lacks fibre and some micronutrients,
and if not organic, contains a multitude of chemicals, antibiot-
ics and hormones, all detrimental to human health. High profile
studies such as EPIC and others clearly cite the effects of too much
saturated fat and lack of fibre, absence of sufficient fruit and veg-
etables in the diet and physical inactivity as contributory risk factors
to many of our chronic but largely preventable diseases; statistics
from WHO show this trend is likely to continue unless concerted ac-
tion is taken.

Most people do not know they are able to replace protein from ani-
mal flesh with protein from pulses, grains, nuts and vegetables with
their many advantages and without detrimental health effects.

Future Growth and Subsidies

Livestock production is a significant contributor to GHGs and a
main cause of climate change; it is also the fastest-growing agricul-
tural sub-sector. Global meat consumption has increased five¬fold
since the 1950s; by 2050, it is expected to be more than double that
of 1999. Growing demand for meat is having a serious detrimen-
tal impact on our health and the environment, and the FAO warns:
“The environmental costs per unit of livestock production must be
cut by one half, just to avoid the level of damage worsening beyond
its present level” (UN FAO 2006).
Despite this very real threat to the planet and its inhabitants, huge
subsidies are given for meat production every year: EU interven-
tions and direct support to the livestock industry in 2007 cost over
3.5 billion Euros. This figure does not include the financial aid given
for marketing (GUE/NGL 2007).

If the meat industry fulfils its predicted growth, with staunch mon-
etary support from governments, we must be prepared for serious
adverse consequences with regard to global health, financial costs
and runaway (uncontrollable) global warming.

Effects of Greenhouse Gases

GLOBAL WARMING In discussions about GGEs, emphasis has mainly been put on car-
FACTS bon dioxide, the most abundant GHG in the atmosphere. How-
ever, methane, the second most prevalent GHG, has shown some
disproportionately rapid increase in recent human history: global
methane has risen by 148% over the past 255 years, while carbon
dioxide emissions increased by 35% over the same period of time
(IPCC 4th Assessment). Since methane has 72 times the global
warming potential (GWP) of carbon dioxide, over a 20 year period
(IPCC 4th Assessment 2007), its sharp increase could have devastat-
ing impact.

As a result of rising temperatures, large areas of permafrost are now

melting and the subsequent release of methane is a “ticking time
bomb”. Frozen bubbles in Siberian lakes are releasing methane at
rates “five times higher than previously estimated.” This could cre-
ate an uncontrollable feedback effect, dramatically warming the
atmosphere, which would in turn warm the land, lakes and seabed,
further melting the permafrost and releasing more methane. Once
that threshold is reached, there will be nothing humans can do to
reverse it (Nature 2006). Research at the University of Alaska, USA,
has shown that a two to three-degree rise in air temperature could
cause the Arctic tundra to change from an area of carbon sink to
one of carbon source releasing into the atmosphere carbon diox-
ide, methane and other gases (Science Daily 2008).

The fast release of methane into the Earth’s atmosphere 55 million

years ago caused rapid warming and mass extinction, disrupting
the climate for more than 100,000 years. Another catastrophe, 251
million years ago, came close to destroying nearly all life on Earth
due to the release of methane (Energy Bulletin 2004).

The very quality of methane that makes it so damaging also points
to a quick and effective way to halt global warming – by signifi-
cantly reducing anthropogenic methane; the primary source of
which is livestock production. However powerful it is, with a net
life cycle of 8.4 years in the atmosphere (c.f. carbon dioxide, 100 -
1000 years) and reduced warming potential in longer time frames,
any reduction in methane can quickly translate into alleviation of
the warming effect.

Overall, livestock production contributes to 9% of global anthropo-

genic carbon dioxide emissions, 37% of anthropogenic methane
emissions and 65% of nitrous oxide emissions, the latter having 275
times GWP of carbon dioxide over 20 years (UN FAO 2006). Overall,
the GHGs produced by the livestock sector account for about 80%
of emissions from agriculture, and nearly one fifth (18%) of total
GGEs from human activities (UN FAO 2006). This is calculated over
a 100-year period and the figure does not take into account trans-
portation, refrigeration in transport or the amount of energy used
at home for storing meat.

Emissions & Diet

A study commissioned by Foodwatch, conducted at the Institute
for Ecological Economy Research in Germany, compared the GGEs
of meat versus non-meat consumption. The study found the emis-
sions attributable to an average meat-containing diet over one
year were equivalent to driving a mid-sized car 4,758 kilometres
(nearly 3,000 miles). A vegetarian diet was found to reduce these
emissions by half, while an animal-free vegan diet produced less
than 1/7th the GHGs of a meat diet, representing emission savings
of 86%. An organic vegan diet was calculated to reduce emissions
by 94%. The study, which took into account animals’ methane pro-
duction, feed and fertilizer manufacture, concluded: “Production
and consumption, first and foremost, of beef and milk must be cut
drastically” (Foodwatch 2008).

Another paper shows that avoiding meat for just one day a week
in the UK would prevent 13 megatons of carbon dioxide emission.
This is a greater carbon saving than taking 5 million cars off the
road (10.4 megatons of carbon dioxide), and almost equal to re-
placing a billion conventional light bulbs with low-energy ones
(Inst Env Studies 2008).

Agriculture as Climate Killer
Greenhouse effect from different kinds of eating habits,
per capita and per annum, presented in car kilometres*

Veganism Organic Farming

281 km Conventional Farming

629 km

1978 km
2427 km

Diet includes Meat

4377 km
4758 km

*equivalent to the CO2 emissions of a BMW 118d with 119g CO2 /km
Source: Foodwatch

Locally Sourced Food

Whilst locally sourced food has obvious environmental advantages
of fewer “food miles”, our food choices have a greater environmen-
tal impact than buying locally sourced food. A comprehensive
audit of the GGEs of our food choices, comparing transportation
vs food production emissions has shown that locally sourced food
does not have a significant impact on GGEs because the emissions
associated with food are dominated by the production phase, not
by its transportation. The report concludes that dietary shift is a
more effective means of lowering carbon footprint than buying lo-
cally, and “shifting less than one day per week’s consumption of red
meat and/or dairy to other protein sources or a vegetable based diet
could have the same climate impact as buying all household food
from local providers” (Carnegie Mellon University 2008).

Land and Water Use

One billion people in the world do not have access to clean water;
more than 2 billion do not have proper sanitation. The UN Food and
Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) estimates that by 2025, there

will be 1.8 billion people living with absolute water scarcity, and
2/3 of the world’s population could be living under water-stressed
conditions (UN FAO 2006). With global population expected to
reach 8.1 billion by 2030, 14% more fresh water would be required
for agriculture to keep pace with the growing demand for food (UN
FAO News 2007). But even now, the global amount of fresh water
available per person is falling rapidly (UNEP 2002).
In the face of such scarcity, water usage continues where it is least
sustainable. The raising of livestock, particularly the production
of animal feed, “consumes large amounts of critically important
water resources and competes with other usages and users” (UN
FAO 2006). A report presented to the UN, ‘Saving Water: From Field
to Fork’ shows that 70% of global fresh water is used in agricul-
ture, and most of that is used for livestock production. Industry ac-
counts for 20% and households only 10% (SIWI and IWHI 2008). The
amount of water per kilo required to produce food groups such as
meat and dairy can be 10 times that required for grains and veg-
etables (SIWI and IWHI 2008). In the United States, the ratio is even
greater: 1kg of animal protein requires about 100 times more water
to produce than 1kg of grain protein (Am J Clin Nutr 2003).
• 1kg of beef requires 5,000 – 20,000 litres of water
• 1 kg of wheat requires 500 – 2,000 litres of water
Meat production also uses up to 20 times more land than grain
and vegetables to support the same number of people (WHO/FAO
One hectare of land produces:
• potatoes 22 people
• rice 19 people
• lamb
for 2 people
• beef 1person
Hence, meat production uses the majority of agricultural land
(70%) – which can be rendered infertile for years due to overgraz-
ing, compaction and erosion. Seventy percent of all grazing land in
dry areas is considered to be degraded (UN FAO 2006).

The livestock industry is the single largest user of land and water
in the world (UN FAO 2006). Our diminishing reserves of land and
water cannot sustain a growing human population while mainly
being used for, and damaged by, the raising of 58 billion livestock
each year (FAOSTAT).

Food Insecurity
There are more than 1 billion people in the world who do not have
enough to eat. Hunger claims 25,000 lives every day and every six
seconds a child dies of hunger. (WFP Hunger Stats). Meanwhile,
760 million tons of grain are fed to animals every year (UN FAO Food
Outlook 2008). During 2007-2008, 36% of the global grain utilised
was to feed animals, whilst 47% was used for feeding humans, and
5% used on bio-fuel (UN FAO Crop 2008). During the same period
about 70% of the global soya consumption was in the form of ani-
mal feed whilst only 16% was used for humans (USDA Review 2008).

Farm animals are inefficient converters of plants to edible flesh be-

cause much of their food is converted into energy for movement,
used for the growth of body parts not eaten by people or excreted
as manure. It takes more than 10 kg of grain to produce 1 kg of
beef, 4 to 5.5 kg of grain to produce 1 kg of pork, and 2.1 to 3 kg
of grain to produce 1 kg of poultry meat (USDA AgStats 2008). This
is based on net live-weight production of meat. If measured by
consumable ready-to-cook weight, the ratio would be even higher.

In its report ‘Environmental Food Crisis’, the United Nations Envi-

ronment Programme (UNEP) has estimated that in 2050 “...feeding
the cereals to animals instead of using the cereals directly as human
food represents the annual calorie need for more than 3.5 billion peo-
ple” (UNEP 2009). Similarly, the UN FAO has stated: “Livestock con-
sume more edible human protein than they produce” (UN FAO 2006).
Raising animals for human consumption is one of the major causes
of world hunger (EVANA).

Every year, 17 million hectares of tropical rainforest is destroyed (RIC).
Seventy percent of the Amazon’s deforestation is due to making pas-
ture land for cattle, and a large part of the remainder is used for feed
crops (FAO 2006).

Forests play a key role in mitigating climate change. Apart from stor-
ing carbon, they act as a climate buffer, generate rainfall, store water,
stabilise the soil, maintain biodiversity and much more (GCP). Deci-
mating them for pasture has a very high environmental cost. Every
year about 2.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide is released into the atmos-
phere as a result of deforestation for livestock maintenance (UN FAO
2006). By 2010 cattle are projected to be grazing on some 24 million
hectares of neo-tropical land that was forest in 2000 (UN FAO 2006).

The declaration signed by 300 climate experts at the 2007 United Na-
tions Conference in Bali says: “If we lose the forests, we lose the fight
against climate change.”

Species Extinctions
In 306 of the 825 terrestrial eco-regions identified by the World-
wide Fund for Nature, livestock are identified as “a current threat”,
while 23 of Conservation International’s 35 “global hotspots for
biodiversity” - characterized by serious levels of habitat loss - are
affected by livestock production. The International Union for Con-
servation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that species loss today is
1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the expected natural extinction
rate. Livestock production is a major culprit, contributing to all the
most important direct drivers of biodiversity loss, such as climate
change, habitat change, invasive alien species, and pollution (UN
FAO 2006).

Tropical forests hold half of the world’s species and many have be-
come or are becoming extinct at an alarming rate, largely for meat
production. The few species of animal raised for meat and milk
now account for about 20% of the total terrestrial animal biomass,
and this proportion is still growing ‘invasively’. “The sheer quantity
of animals being raised for human consumption is a threat to the
Earth’s biodiversity” (UN FAO 2006).

Raising animals for the production of meat is also responsible for

64% of global Ammonia emissions (UN FAO 2006), contributing to
acid rain and affecting biodiversity.

The current rapid loss of biodiversity is a cause of grave concern.

The IUCN has warned that life on Earth is disappearing fast and will
continue to do so unless urgent action is taken.
The Move Towards Plant-based Alternatives
DIET FOR In their most recent and extensive position on the subject, the
GOOD HEALTH AND American Dietetic Association has confirmed that a healthy vegan
SUSTAINABILITY or vegetarian diet is appropriate for all stages of life, including dur-
ing pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence and for
athletes (ADA 2009). The ADA states that: “appropriately planned
vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are health-
ful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the pre-
vention and treatment of certain diseases” (ADA 2009).

They report that vegetarians have a lower body mass index, lower
blood cholesterol, lower blood pressure and rates of clinical hy-
pertension, less type II diabetes, and a lower incidence of prostate
and colon cancer. Vegetarians also have lower rates of death from
ischaemic heart disease (ADA 2009). A vegetarian diet prevents
meat-related diseases and can reverse some of them: Research
over the last 30 years has demonstrated that coronary atheroscle-
rosis can be reversed through comprehensive lifestyle changes,
including a vegetarian diet; and more recently, a randomized con-
trolled trial showed that comprehensive lifestyle changes may stop
or reverse the progression of prostate cancer (JAMA 1998). The
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has also published studies
showing the benefits of a vegetarian diet in the prevention and
treatment of type II diabetes as well as its significant impact on car-
diovascular disease (Am J Clin Nutr 2003).

A study earlier this year by the Netherlands Environmental As-

sessment Agency found a global food transition to less meat, or
even a complete switch to plant-based foods could wipe 80%, or
US$ 32 trillion, off the cost of fighting climate change. Hence, di-
etary changes could play an important role in climate change miti-
gation policies (New Scientist 2009) as well as preventing chronic
disease. In addition, decreases in meat production/consumption
would almost immediately reduce the effects of methane as rumi-
nant animals can be removed from production in as little as 1-2
years and methane cycles out of the atmosphere in about 8 years,
whilst the lifetime of cars and power plants, etc, can be decades,
and carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for centuries. Intro-
ducing new techniques and further research into cutting methane
emission from livestock would take many years and a cut in carbon
dioxide involves fighting powerful and wealthy business interests
while vegetarian foods are readily available at every mealtime
(Earth Save International 2005).

The trend toward plant-based foods has already gained momen-
tum as consumers learn about meat’s harmful effect on health and
the environment. Reducing or eliminating animal products from
our diet has major health benefits, will save billions of dollars in
healthcare and climate change costs and has the added benefit of
being the quickest, most effective way to curb methane emissions.

In a 2007 article in the Lancet, analysing the link between livestock,

SOLUTIONS FOR energy, climate change and health, the authors advocate reduc-
BETTER HEALTH ing the average worldwide consumption level of animal products
AND and the intensity of emissions from livestock production (Lancet
ENVIRONMENT 2007). A recent WHO/FAO report recommends the consumption
of a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables per day (excluding
PRESERVATION starchy tubers) for the prevention of chronic disease as well as for
the prevention and alleviation of several micronutrient deficien-
cies (WHO 2004).

Many steps are being taken to curb climate change all over the
world, such as the use of renewable energy, eco friendly cars and
aeroplanes, recycling and planting trees, to name a few. Even the
meat and dairy industries are moving to reduce their environmen-
tal footprint through less packaging, improving fuel efficiency, re-
ducing water use, etc. Clearly, all of these are important and much
needed. Yet, even collectively, they are not sufficient to resolve the
environmental crisis we are facing now within a short time-frame,
if we continue to raise 58 billion animals for human consumption
every year (FAOSTAT). Nor would a continuation of current levels
of meat consumption reduce the worldwide pandemic of chronic
disease. Increasing scientific evidence shows that the high satu-
rated fats and lack of fibre in meat not only have a direct role in the
increase in major chronic diseases, but also, animal agriculture in
its current levels of production is literally stripping the planet of its
finite resources, as well as having a major role in global warming,
affecting many eco-systems. Furthermore, the rearing of billions of
animals in factory farms is breeding new and virulent pathogens,
as evidenced by the recent pandemic of Swine flu, posing an even
greater threat to human health and lives.

As Professor Tim Lang, adviser to the UK Government on food se-
curity and tackling obesity, has said: “We’ve got to have new crite-
ria that take into account all the new concerns – sustainability, water
shortage, climate change, obesity, malnutrition and so on.” He advis-
es cutting down on eating animals and dairy foodstuffs to reduce
the amount of GHGs produced in rearing livestock (Daily Telegraph

Based on the above studies showing how our dietary choices can
have a significant impact on our health and well-being as well as
an enormous impact on our planet’s resources and climate change,
governments can implement novel environmentally and economi-
cally effective measures such as:

• Introduce an appropriate tax on meat to reflect meat’s cata-

strophic impact on the environment;

• Stop subsidising the meat industry to show meat’s true cost

to the consumer;

• Subsidise organic farming of grains, vegetables and fruits

as the way forward for feeding a growing global population
and protecting the environment;

• Encourage a change towards a healthier plant-based diet by

educating people on the clear link between heart disease,
diabetes, obesity, some forms of cancer and the consump-
tion of meat;

• Proactively encourage change by providing healthy non-

meat options, including pulses and nuts with whole grains,
vegetables and fruits, in government institutes and public
service providers, such as hospitals and schools, showing
their nutritional and health benefits as well as their lower
carbon footprint.

Proactively encouraging individuals towards a more healthful diet

of less animal proteins and fats through the above measures has
multi-faceted advantages, desperately needed at this time – in the
face of global health and environmental crises.

The 20th century change from largely plant-based diets to energy-
CONCLUSION dense diets high in fat and animal foods has played a key role in the
upsurge of diet-related, preventable health problems, from obesity
to type II diabetes, many types of heart disease and some cancers;
even the swine flu pandemic has been clearly linked to meat pro-
duction and consumption.

Much experimental and epidemiological evidence supports the

healthcare benefits of plant-based foods; the cost of ill-health to
national economies and health care systems would also be re-
duced by billions of dollars. Thus, a plant-based diet with clear
advantages in economics and environmental sustainability, must
become a serious consideration as it offers win-win solutions to
some of humanity’s most pressing problems: easing the health
care burden, while at the same time improving public health and
helping to mitigate global warming.

The Union of Concerned Scientists warned us 17 years ago: “Hu-

man beings and the natural world are on a collision course… Fun-
damental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our
present course will bring about” (UCS 1992). We begin to realise
now that we are under a very real threat from climate change and
have only a short few years to address the crisis for which we are
all responsible.

In addition to adopting renewable energies, reforestation pro-

grammes and other measures to cut carbon emissions, we have
to use the methane lever (the highest source of which is livestock
production) to buy some valuable time for the carbon reduction
to take effect. The focus on CO2 emissions, whilst important, is not
the short term solution that is required, because even if the entire
world switched to a zero carbon economy and lifestyle today, it
would take 100 to 1000 years for CO2 to dissipate out of the atmos-
phere. It becomes very clear then why many scientists are now
placing a greater importance on limiting shorter term GHGs, such
as methane, as a better and essential strategy for mitigating global
warming. This would have a major influence in slowing planetary
heating, giving us valuable time to deal with CO2 emissions.
The diversity of the above studies (populations, diet, study design,
types of intervention) points us to the following compelling con-
clusions, that:

• the potential for disease prevention by improved nutrition,

particularly a move towards reducing meat consumption and
a move towards a healthful plant-based diet, is substantial.
• global warming can be most effectively curbed by a non-animal
diet, before we reach ‘the point of no return’, to give us time to deal
with carbon dioxide.

The majority of people are largely unaware of the link between

meat consumption and its full environmental devastation and det-
rimental health impact. They are unaware of the short time left to
avoid catastrophic climate change leading to mass extinctions. At
times of global emergency they look to their government to take
the lead and to advise them accordingly. The people will follow
what governments propose, especially if it is good for them and
necessary for planetary survival.

At this time of planetary emergency, our governments and inter-

national institutions need to legislate change, to lead the way and
to serve as an example, both as individuals and as a government.
Based on scientific data, our leaders and institutions need to make
vital policy changes and to facilitate these changes as quickly as
possible in many ways. People must be made aware of the dire
consequences that await all of us if fundamental changes are not
made urgently. We can no longer afford NOT to make these fun-
damental and urgent changes as a truly sustainable, effective solu-
tion to many of our global crises today.

Those in a position of authority and significance can lead the way

in implementing vital measures for the survival of the planet.

Appendix 1 FISH

Fish is linked to many health benefits including protection from

cardiovascular disease. Until the publication of DART-2 Trial in 2003
(Eur J Clin Nutr 2003), evidence appeared to show that Omega 3 from
oily fish or supplements reduced the risks of fatal myocardial infarc-
tion, sudden death and overall mortality among people with exist-
ing disease (Am J Med 2002). Surprisingly, DART-2 did not confirm
this (Eur J Clin Nutr 2002) and more recently, in 2006, a high qual-
ity systematic review was published in the British Medical Journal
which drew attention to uncertainties of comprehensive benefits of
consumption of Omega 3 fats (BMJ 2006). The claim that Omega 3
fats reduce the risk of cancer was not supported either (JAMA 2006).
Earlier in 2004, the US Food and Drug Administration suggested
that women of child-bearing age, pregnant women, nursing moth-
ers and very young children should not eat long-lived predatory
fish to minimize exposure to methylmercury (EPA/FDA 2004). Clear-
ly, this is a field in which knowledge is still evolving.

Mercury is only one of the dangerous toxins found in fish. The US

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry documents high
levels of mercury exposure causing permanent damage to brain,
kidneys and liver, even damaging the developing fetus (ASTDR
2007). Fish, particularly predatory fish, such as swordfish, golden
bass and king mackerel, accumulate Polychlorinated Biphenyls
(PCBs), dioxins and other toxic substances such as lead, arsenic
and chromium in their flesh which reach levels that may be many
thousands of times higher than in surrounding water. Dioxins, PCBs,
cadmium, arsenic and mercury are all cited as possible carcinogens
(ATSDR 2008).

Environmentally, overfishing is the single greatest threat to the ma-

rine environment and our eating habits are driving many aquatic
species to the brink of extinction. Overall, 80% of global fish stocks
are either fully exploited or overexploited. Only 20% of stocks are
moderately exploited or underexploited (UN FAO Fisheries 2009). It
is worth noting that 53% of global fishmeal production is used by
the livestock sector for feed which is seriously affecting the world’s
fish population (UN FAO 2006).

Aquaculture (fish farming) is not the solution. This practice consists

mainly of raising carnivorous fish, such as salmon, blue fin tuna and
sea bass, on a high protein diet of fishmeal and fish oils. It takes 2.5
– 5 kg of feed fish to make just 1 kg of farmed carnivorous fish (UNEP
2009). In 2006, aquaculture accounted for 47% of the 110 million
tons of food fish (UN FAO Fisheries 2009). Fish farming has increased
more than seven fold between 1980 and 2000. In order to meet the
growing fish demand aquaculture will have to produce an addition-
al 28.8 million tons (80.5 million tons overall), just to maintain per
capita fish consumption at current levels (UNEP 2009). This means
that global fish stocks will be under even more pressure.

Due to increasing concern about the state of our oceans and fisher-
ies and the safety of eating fish, alternative sources of long chain
polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) have been or are being de-
veloped. One such lipid is stearidonic acid (SDA), a naturally occur-
ring (n-3) PUFA that may have similar biological properties to eicos-
apentaenoic acid (EPA), a major (n-3) PUFA in fish oil. Existing and
novel plant sources rich in SDA are being cultivated and promoted
as potential alternatives to marine-based (n-3) PUFA (J Nutr 2009).

Given the state of severe crisis of our global fisheries, the health
risks in fish consumption and the incomplete knowledge surround-
ing the health benefits of fish consumption, it would seem respon-
sible to refrain from advocating to people in developed countries
that they increase their intake of long chain Omega-3 fatty acids
through fish consumption.

Vegetarians lead healthy lives without the need to consume fish,

receiving their Essential Fatty Acids from sources such as flaxseed,
rapeseed, soya, seeds and nuts, with spirulina and chlorella provid-
ing valuable sources of EFAs and DHAs as well as a host of other


“When we kill the animals to eat them, they end up killing

us because their flesh, which contains cholesterol and sat-
urated fat, was never intended for human beings, who are
naturally herbivores.”
William C. Roberts, M.D.,
Editor of The American Journal of Cardiology

“I don’t understand why asking people to eat a well-bal-

anced vegetarian diet is considered drastic, while it is medi-
cally conservative to cut people open and put them on cho-
lesterol-lowering drugs for the rest of their lives.”
Dean Ornish, M.D.,
Director of Preventive Medicine Research Institute

“Under conditions of starvation, people must turn to an

all-plant diet, not being able to afford the ten-fold loss of
energy that occurs when plants are fed to animals. In order
for us to make maximum use of the solar energy trapped by
plants, we must become mainly herbivorous.”
Raven, Evert and Eichorn, Biology of Plants, 4th edition, p 665

“The best solution would be for us all to become vegetarians.”
UN, Yvo de Boer,
Executive Secretary of Framework Committee on Climate Change

“Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal

of all human evolution. Until we stop harming all other liv-
ing beings, we are still savages.”
Thomas Edison, Inventor

“Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of
survival for life on earth as much as the evolution to a veg-
etarian diet.”
Albert Einstein, Physicist, Nobel Prize 1921

“People often say that humans have always eaten animals

as if this is a justification for continuing the practice. Accord-
ing to this logic, we should not try to prevent people from
murdering other people, since this has also been done since
the earliest of times.”
Isaac Bashevis Singer, Author, Nobel Prize 1978

“Auschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a slaughter-

house and thinks: they’re only animals.”
Theodor Adorno, sociologist, Philosopher

“I am in favour of animal rights as well as human rights. That

is the way of a whole human being.”
Abraham Lincoln, 16th U.S. President

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be
judged by the way its animals are treated.”
Mahatma Gandhi

“People ask me how I look so young. I tell them I look my

age. It is other people who look older, what do you expect
from people who eat corpses?”
George Bernard Shaw, Playwright

“As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battle-

Leo Tolstoy , Novelist

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“One of the most helpful is actually a vegetarian diet,
it produces much less greenhouse gasses than a meat diet.”
Dr. James Hansen, Director, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
o rg
e t.

pla ne