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There has been a rapid increase in global consumption of meat over the past 50 years with industrial countries accounting for 37% of meat consumption worldwide. Meat production has increased to more than 340 million tonnes every year. A number of studies have revealed that high consumption of meat is associated with a greater risk of diseases such as diabetes, heart diseases, etc. Although meat consumption is considered as an important source of nutrition, it costs slaughtering of 80 billion animals per year and the largest environmental impacts, posing serious health risks for humans. Have you ever thought of how this actually happens? Let us try and understand a little more about the effects of the meat industry on human health.
  1. Increased risk of diseases

High amount of red meat consumption increases the saturated fatty acids in the body, leading to high cholesterol levels. High cholesterol level is an established risk factor for heart diseases. Meat consumption is also a contributing factor for obesity. Obese individuals develop resistance to insulin due to increased fat content, leading to diabetes.

Studies have also linked meat consumption to other diseases such as developing certain types of cancers, digestive diseases and respiratory diseases. Increased bioavailability of iron for pathogens through meat has found to be one of the causative factors of acquiring infections.

  1. Animal drug residues

Animals are induced with a number of drugs including antimicrobials, hormones, vaccines, antiparasitics etc. These drugs can have adverse health outcomes in humans when they consume meat or meat products.

Administration of these drugs can result in residues that remain in the animal body/organs which then enter into the human body through meat consumption. These drug residues cause infectious diseases, allergic reactions, gastrointestinal problems, toxic effects on the cardiovascular system, gene mutations and have the capability to form into cancer causing cells.

  1. Harmful substances in processed meat

Meat processing is a method which involves various processes such as curing, smoking, salting, drying, etc to preserve the meat for longer periods than their normal shelf life. These processing methods can have harm full effects on human health. 

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), processed meat is the highest contributor of colorectal cancer. Some examples of processed meat include: sausages, ham, pepperoni, etc. The chemicals that are linked to cell damage in the colon and rectum are heme that is majorly found in red meat; nitrites that are used to preserve freshness of meat, and polycyclic/heterocyclic amines that are released at high cooking temperatures of meat. These substances not only cause harmful effects on the body but also cause depletion of all essential nutrients.

  1. Unhygienic meat processing facilities 

Contamination of meat processing facilities and poor sanitation practices can result in growth of bacteria, virus, fungi and other microorganisms causing infectious diseases.

Foodborne infections can develop due to consumption of meat contaminated by microorganisms. Foodborne intoxication can occur when the meat is contaminated with cleaning substances such as pesticides/fertilizers, etc.

Failure of maintaining proper meat hygiene standards such as disinfection of meat processing equipment, storage area, transporting facility and personnel hygiene can result in deterioration of quality of meat, contributing to a wide variety of diseases. 

  1. Environmental impact

Meat processing industries negatively impact the environment in several ways. They release harmful gases into the atmosphere, causing air pollution. Waste products produced in these industries contaminate water, making it unfit for drinking. Air polluted with these harmful gases through animal manure, transportation fuel, poor waste management, can all lead to toxic effects on the respiratory system. Contaminated water is a contributor for a wide variety of infectious diseases such as cholera, typhoid, diarrhoea, dysentery etc.

Conclusion:

Meat processing industries may have direct or indirect effects, ultimately posing serious threats to human health. It is important to identify sustainable feeding practices and alternatives to meat/meat products such as plant-based diets, in order to overcome these threats, to lead a safe and healthy life!

References:

  1. Walker P, Pamella R. Public Health Implications of Meat Production and Consumption. Public Health Nutrition (2005); 8(4):348-56.

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  1. Charles J, Paul A, Tara G et al. Meat consumption, health, and the environment. American Association for the Advancement of Science AAAS. (2018); Vol 361; Issue; 6399.

Accessed on 28 June, 2021.

  1. Hannah R, Max R. Meat and Dairy Production. Our World In Data (2017).

https://ourworldindata.org/meat-production

Accessed on 28 June, 2021.

  1. Livestock commodities. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

http://www.fao.org/3/y4252e/y4252e05b.htm

Accessed on 28 June, 2021.

  1. Frank Q, Matthew C, Judith W, Frank B. Red and Processed Meats and Health Risks: How Strong Is the Evidence? Diabetes Care (2020): 43(2): 265-271.

Accessed on 28 June, 2021.

  1. Papier, K., Fensom, G.K., Knuppel, A. et al. Meat consumption and risk of 25 common conditions: outcome-wide analyses in 475,000 men and women in the UK Biobank study. BMC Med (2021); 19, 53.

Accessed on 28 June, 2021.

  1. Processed meat. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). 

https://www.pcrm.org/good-nutrition/nutrition-information/processed-meat

Accessed on 28 June, 2021.

  1. Processed meat and cancer: What you need to know. MD Anderson Center.

https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/focused-on-health/eat-less-processed-meat.h11-1590624.html

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