Meat consumption has nearly doubled in the United States in the last Century. Americans eat three times as much meat as global average, 274 pounds per year. That is the second highest in the world, surpassed only by Hong Kong.
The three types of meat most often eaten in the United States, are processed meat, poultry and red meat. Processed meats are hot dogs, bacon, sausage, deli meats, salami and ham. They are nearly a quarter of all meat consumed in the US.
Processed meat was categorized as a Group 1 carcinogen by the WHO, since 2015. Epidemiological studies showed development of cancer in exposed humans, increasing the risk of stomach and bowel cancers.
An analysis of 10 studies estimated, that a 50 gram portion of processed meat, eaten daily increases the chance of colorectal cancer by 18%. 50 gram is less than 2 ounces, two deli slices. Most people eat more than that.
In addition to the cancer risk, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, Type-2 diabetes, obesity and earlier death are also associated with high processed meat intake. Thus, science on processed meat is settled, it is best to avoid it.
There is a scientific consensus on poultry as well, but a positive one. Poultry, primarily chicken is considered healthy by nutrition experts and regular consumption has been a long standing recommendation. Low in calories, high in digestible protein, B-group vitamins and minerals, like iron, zinc and copper, make poultry meat a valuable food.
“Epidemiological studies, performed across the world in highly diverse populations, with different food preferences and nutritional habits, provide solid information on the association between poultry consumption within a balanced diet and good health.” (Source)
Chicken consumption surpassed beef by 2010 in the United States. Approximately 8 Billions chickens are eaten in the US every year, nearly 100 pounds per person. KFC had 3940 restaurants in 2020, nearly 1 Billion chickens are killed yearly to fill KFC buckets.
But there is more to the story, cholesterol, carcinogens, pathogens and even feces, found in chickens make them less healthy, than claimed.
A study, found 100% of 100 grilled chicken samples from top restaurant chains contained PhIP, a federally recognized carcinogen.
Organic meat isn’t safer either, a 2005 study found, that organic chickens were contaminated with Salmonella more often, than non-organic chickens. In another study, the prevalence of Enterococcus bacteria was 25% higher in organic chicken.
“Fecal Soup” – the last step in the slaughtering process is chilling the chicken carcasses in cold water. Intestines are often still attached at that point, contaminating the water.
“We often see birds going down the line, with intestines still attached, which are full of fecal contamination.” – USDA inspector.
Classifications, like “free range” can not be trusted either, the lives of “free range” chickens are often no different from the lives of chickens in large industrial farms If the chicken farmer opens the barn door for a short time, leading to a small outdoor space, it qualifies for the “free range” label.
“Imagine a shed, containing 30,000 chickens, with a small door at one end, that opens to a 5 by 5 dirt patch – and the door is closed, all but occasionally.” – Jonathan Safran, author of Eating animals
On top of all this, animals are often sadistically abused and tortured. At a KFC “Supplier of the Year” slaughterhouse in West Virginia, workers were documented tearing the heads off live birds, spitting tobacco in their eyes, spray painting their faces and violently stomping on them.
When it comes to red meat, after a century of research, scientists still aren’t certain it is a risk factor, we are told “more studies are needed”.
Although red meat is a great source of protein, iron, vitamin B12, zinc and other important nutrients, public health officials for a long time urged Americans to eat less red meat, as the link between red meat and heart disease and cancer were established. The WHO classified red meat, as a Group 2 carcinogen.
This long standing recommendation was turned on its head in 2019, when a report was published in the prestigious Annals of Internal Medicine. A group of international researchers concluded, that the benefits of eating less beef and pork is very small and insufficient to advise the public to cut back on red meat.
This was one of the largest evaluations ever attempted, involved 14 member international team in 7 countries. They reviewed 61 articles in 55 populations, with more, than 4 Million participants. They also looked at 73 papers, that examined links between red meat and cancer incidence and mortality.
Their conclusion was, that red meat poses no health risk. It caused an uproar, with many prominent experts excoriating the work – “an egregious abuse of evidence”, “fatally flawed”. The end result is continued uncertainty on recommendation for red meat consumption.
Antibiotics in food producing animals are blamed for the increase in resistant bacteria, called superbugs. When passed to humans, they can cause serious illness. There are strict regulations in place to decrease the amount of antibiotic residue in food.
Products that test positive for contamination, do not enter the food chain. Despite of that, 2.8 Million people in the United States are infected with the resistant bacteria, MRSA each year and 35,000 die.
The growth hormones, injected into cows are also a cause for concern. They were banned in Europe 25 years ago. “Modern cows” lactate all year because of that and they produce huge amounts of estrogen. The main cause of prostate and breast cancer is excess estrogen, most of it comes from meat and dairy.
It is ironic, that eating meat, “being carnivorous”, is considered by some, as more “manly”, because men on plant based diets have, on the average, 13% higher testosterone levels.
The FDA organic certification for beef requires, that the animals are raised in living conditions, accommodating their natural behaviors, fed 100% organic feed and forage and not administered antibiotics and hormones. This is a definite plus for red meat lovers.
So is Meat Good, or Bad for You?
Based on what the experts say: Processed Meat = Bad | Poultry = Good | Red meat = So-So.
Personally, researching for this article strengthened my resolve to give up meat completely. The risks are numerous and this article does not even mention every one of them.