A recent study came to the alarming conclusion that all red meat is bad for you—as in, any amount, any kind, will increase your risk of dying. The study conducted over 20 years, found that eating just three ounces of meat a day increases your risk of dying by 13 percent—and that number increases to 20 percent if that meat is processed, like hot dogs or bacon. But this isn’t the first time meat-lovers have been warned—from ubiquitous pink slime to lax regulation, The Daily Beast rounds up seven arguments against being a carnivore.
It turns out that that slab of meat everyone enjoys is not so much a slab of meat but most likely comprised of meat scraps held together with something commonly referred to as “meat glue.” Officially known as “transglutaminase,” meat glue has its origins in the farming industry, when the natural enzyme was harvested from animal blood, but now it is produced through the fermentation of bacteria. The Food and Drug Association has ruled that meat glue is “generally recognized as safe,” and it is required to be listed as one of the ingredients—but it’s unlikely that any restaurant or banquet hall would list the ingredients of something on the menu. Using meat glue also poses a problem when cooking, since cooking a steak from usually kills all the bacteria on the outside—but by gluing pieces together, a rare piece of meat might be rare on the outside too and filled with bacteria. Yum.
Cancer, Heart Disease, Diabetes
Anyone with high cholesterol knows to stay away from red meat. Swapping out red meat with another protein source such as nuts can lower your risk of heart disease by up to 30 percent. But red meat is also linked to cancer, especially to colorectal cancer, and to diabetes.
If you need an image to convince you to stay away from meat, you couldn’t do better than that of pink slime. According to Gerald Zirnstein, a former Department of Agriculture scientist, 70 percent of ground beef sold in supermarkets contains pink slime, a goo made out of waste trimmings previously reserved for dog food and cooking oil. Ground beef containing pink slime doesn’t need to be labeled, thanks to a ruling by a USDA official who later stepped down and immediately joined the board of Beef Products Inc.
About 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States go to livestock, which need them to stay alive in cramped and overcrowded industrial farms. To make them grow faster, they're often given hormones which have been linked to cancer. It’s unclear what effect eating antibiotic-filled meat has on humans, but the federal government is concerned that the widespread use of drugs is breeding antibiotic-resistant superbugs and has slowly begun to restrict them.
Chemicals, Pesticides, Heavy Metals
Cholesterol and antibiotics are supposed to be in the meat, but what about the stuff that isn’t? The United States’ standards for testing meat for pesticides and chemicals are notoriously lax. In 2008, Mexico turned back a shipment of American beef because it didn’t meet the country’s standards for copper traces, and in 2010 the Department of Agriculture’s inspector general condemned the U.S. for allowing meat containing pesticides, heavy metals, veterinary drugs, and other chemicals to reach supermarket shelves.
Salmonella, E. coli, Mad Cow
Hardly a month goes by without news of a meat recall due to bacteria. There’s E. coli, which comes from contaminated and undercooked beef and pork and which results in diarrhea, cramps, and occasionally kidney failure. Salmonella, another frequent culprit, results in vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. Mad-cow disease, while rare, is far more frightening. A pathonogenic protein slowly devours the brains of infected cattle—and of humans who eat them. It’s believed to have originated by feeding cattle the remains of other cattle.
Livestock do more damage to the environment than automobiles, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, which called the industry “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems on every scale.” Livestock degrade land, contribute to climate change, pollute water, and destroy biodiversity. Cattle rank up there with automobiles and power plants in terms of greenhouse-gas emissions. Globally, livestock—mostly cattle—account for 18 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions.
The horrors of factory farming are well documented, from crates where pigs don’t have space to turn around to calves restrained to produce veal. Some of the most egregious practices are being phased out after state-level action, but national regulation remains lax.