Why is it important to eat less meat?


The amount of meat consumed by Lithuanians is growing every year and is currently three times higher than recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). It seems that our compatriots are succumbing to a noticeable trend in the world, which shows the growing consumption of animal products in economically strengthening countries. At the same time, the voice of plant-based nutrition enthusiasts is being heard more and more loudly in the country. It calls for reducing meat consumption, and the shelves and menus of public catering establishments are filled with vegan alternatives to meat or dairy products and dishes. What is the harm of meat consumption and how can each of us reduce it?

According to the data provided by the Ministry of Agriculture, Lithuanian residents consume approx 95 kg of meat. Various world associations of nutritionists and the World Health Organization state that a person should consume no more than 32 kg of meat per year and should eat it only 3-4 times a week. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for Lithuanians to have some form of meat in their meals - a sandwich with sausage for breakfast is accompanied by a steak for lunch, and a filling soup with meatballs for dinner.

Back in 2015, WHO made it public investigation, demonstrating the health risks of processed red meat. Bacon, ham, sausages and other processed meat products have been classified as the exact same carcinogens as cigarettes. Excessive consumption of meat and other animal products is often associated with cardiovascular diseases. Thus, more frequent inclusion of plant-based products in the diet can significantly contribute to public health.

Countries are starting to take into account the pollution of the meat industry

In 2021, the Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries issued new dietary guidelines, which for the first time included not only the health aspect, but also the environmental aspect. Denmark has set a target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 70 % (compared to 1990 levels) by 2030.

The new edition talks for the first time about reducing meat consumption and expanding plant-based nutrition - it is recommended to choose leguminous products instead of meat, to consume more grain crops, vegetables and fruits, and to have several meat-free days a week.

Denmark's new dietary guidelines are an example of how countries wishing to implement more sustainable policies should take into account the environmental damage caused by the meat or other animal products industry. Livestock farming is estimated to be responsible for approximately 60 % of forest destruction, and is ranked as the 2nd-3rd most polluting industry (different calculation methodologies place it differently, with pollution amounting to 13-18 % of total emissions). One of the ways that can significantly reduce this damage is to reduce the consumption of animal products - a flexitarian, vegetarian or vegan diet.

One person eats 105 animals per year

Animal Charity Evaluators, an organization that promotes and measures the effectiveness of animal rights organizations, conducted investigation, which represents "the global average number of animals killed for food per non-vegetarian person." The calculation was based on the following model: the number of vertebrates killed for food was divided by the number of people living in the world (minus the number of people who eat a plant-based diet). The study included a wide range of animal species, including 13 species of farmed terrestrial vertebrates, 262 species of farmed fish and 1,373 species of wild-caught fish.

About 772 billion vertebrates were killed for human consumption in 2018, according to the study. Of these, even 88.3 % were fish, 11.1 % - birds and 0.6 % - mammals. Among land animals, chickens had the highest number of kills, about 81 billion.

According to the same calculations, one plant-based dieter did not contribute to the killing of 105 animals in 2018. In detail: an average of 79 wild-caught fish, 14 farmed fish and 12 terrestrial animals (11.5 birds and 0.5 mammals).

The current system is not feasible with population growth

United Nations Assemblies calculations, in 2100 the world should have over 11 billion inhabitants. It is argued that the current food chain must change to meet the needs of a growing population and an economically strengthening world.

More and more people are starting to think about how to adapt the food industry so that it is not only sustainable, ethical, but also attractive to consumers who do not want to give up their usual lifestyle. Therefore, it is worth talking not only about the damage of the industry, but also about what benefits can be provided by innovations in the food industry, such as alternative proteins.

Currently, two trends are emerging in the alternative protein sector: plant-based meat alternatives and cultured or fermented meat. Plant-based meat is created using plant-based ingredients and various technologies in order to best reproduce the taste of different types of meat. Perhaps the most commonly used basis for making these products is soy, pea protein, seitan (made from wheat gluten), various beans or mushrooms. Meanwhile, cultured meat is the real meat, simply grown under different conditions than most of us are used to - not in the body of an animal, but in a medium that is favorable for cell reproduction.

Both alternative proteins allow consumers to enjoy the usual flavors of animal products while reducing the impact on animals and the environment, which may become one of the most significant issues for our survival as our population grows.

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