Australians are among the biggest meat eaters in the world. We consume a staggering 90kg per person each year, or around 250g per day. Reducing the amount of meat we eat is a vital part of looking after our health.
Red and processed meats have been linked to an increased risk of death from avoidable causes, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Our bodies aren’t designed for the current levels of meat intake, particularly when added chemicals, hormones and antibiotics are factored in.
Unhealthy levels of meat consumption are also putting Australia’s stunning natural landscapes, and strong agricultural traditions at risk.
Over half the land in Australia is given to livestock grazing - the main driver behind devastating rates of land clearing. This strips habitats, and poses a significant threat to water quality in our natural reserves.
Climate change also threatens to impact the long-term future of our agricultural industry. Carbon dioxide released by clearing forests for livestock grazing is also a major issue: studies have found beef and lamb produce around 65 times as many greenhouse gases per kg as field-grown fruit and vegetables.
Australian farmers and scientists are to be commended for their efforts to reduce the environmental impacts of the livestock industry. But the need to reduce meat production and consumption cannot be ignored.
Many people are choosing a vegetarian or vegan diet due to concerns about animal welfare, their health, and the environment.
If the rest of us replaced some of the meat on our plates with good quality, sustainably farmed meat, and a whole lot more fresh fruit and vegetables, both people and planet would be much better off.
Dr Kris Barnden is a member of Doctors for the Environment Australia.
First published in The Courier 12 February 2018