New research suggests that 45,000 UK deaths could be prevented each year with lower meat diets

October 19th, 2010 by Friends of the Earth

Switching to diets that contain no more than three meat meals each week could prevent around 45,000 early deaths and save the NHS £1.2 billion each year as well as helping to tackle climate change and curb deforestation, according to a new Friends of the Earth report.

Researchers from Oxford University analysed the health implications of a range of dietary options and concluded that lower-meat diets could cut deaths from heart disease by around 31,000, deaths from cancer by 9,000 and deaths from strokes by 5,000 each year.

The report also highlights how factory farming and processing of meat has made it less healthy, with an average supermarket chicken today containing 2.7 times as much fat as in 1970 and 30 per cent less protein.

Its release comes ahead of a key vote on the UK’s Sustainable Livestock Bill in November.  If passed, the new Law should see the Government recommending healthier meat-based diets and changing the way food production is funded through subsidies paid for by taxpayers.

Current levels and methods of meat production are driving wildlife loss in South America where rainforests are being cleared to grow animal feed and rear cattle for export to Europe.

Friends of the Earth’s Director of Policy and Campaigns, Craig Bennett said “We don’t need to go vegetarian to look after ourselves and our planet but we do need to cut down on meat.  While the Government has ignored the environmental impact of high meat and dairy consumption, it can’t ignore the lives that would be saved by switching to less and better meat.  Eating less and better meat is a win win but we need the Government to act too at the moment it promotes unhealthy high-meat diets and funds damaging factory farms.”

Dr Mike Rayner of the Department of Public Health, University of Oxford, said “This research demonstrates the clear health benefits of cutting down on meat and dairy in the UK and quantifies this more comprehensively than ever before.”

Actress and mum of three Helen Baxendale said “We’ve switched to less and better quality meat since we heard about the damaging impact factory farming is having on the planet – now I want the Government to play its part.

“It’s outrageous that millions pounds of public money is spent on factory farming and imported animal feed that’s grown where we used to have rainforests.  I’m proud to be part of Friends of the Earth’s MOOvement for rainforest-free food and I want my MP to vote for the Sustainable Livestock Bill next month.”

The full report can be downloaded as a PDF file.  It includes new modelling research by Pete Scarborough, Dushy Clarke, Kremlin  Wickramasinghe, and Mike Rayner from Oxford University’s Department of Public Health.   The lower-meat diets analysed cut diseases and deaths because they contain less fat from meat, less salt from processed meat and more healthy fruit, vegetables and starchy carbohydrates.

Friends of the Earth’s Food Chain Campaign was launched in April 2009.  Since then more than 50,000 people have backed its call for Government action to reduce the environmental impact of the meat and dairy industry.

For more information on the impacts of the meat and dairy sector read the Friends of the Earth’s What’s feeding our food? report.

For more information on the Sustainable Livestock Bill, see Friends of the Earth’s briefing

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