New York Times columnist Mark Bittman sung the praises of the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) newest release in his article “More Weight on Less Meat.” Of their Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health, Bittman writes that it is “a comprehensive report that suggests what’s become a common refrain here and elsewhere: we all need to eat fewer animal products – not just meat, but dairy as well.”
Like many vegetarians, I hardly expect those of us who do eat meat to change into tofu/seitan/tempeh guzzlers overnight. Yet it is hard to deny the benefits of eating less meat to both our health and environment, so I am with the EWG here. You don’t have to go vegan to do your body and the earth a solid. Carnivores take heed, eating less meat can still significantly and positively impact your health and the environment.
EWG’s full report is about 20 pages long with 3 1/2 pages of references. If this sounds intimidating, they have a handy at-a-glance brochure that summarizes their report in 7 pages that are approachable, understandable, succinct, and most importantly, compelling. The large print and colorful bubbled facts could put even zealous carnivores in a pensive state.
I encourage you to go through this brochure and take a look at the reported facts and figures. Their “lifecycle assessments” measured by environmental analysis firm CleanMetrics are innovative. I do, however, have a few issues with this brochure. Below are my top three contentions taken from the report that I debate as misleading or incomplete.
Scroll below the debates for helpful resources and more information on certified humane and organic meats, choosing greener seafood, and Whole Food’s GAP animal rating program.
#1: AICR and ADA recommend limiting red meat to 18 oz per week
Page 15 of the full report and page 5 of the brochure
This recommendation does not sit well with me. It says, “The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the American Dietetic Association recommend limiting red meat to 18 ounces (ADA 2010) a week.” Last I checked, a proper serving size of meat is 3 oz, or about the size of a deck of cards. Basic math tells you that these two major organizations are endorsing eating red meat 6 days a week. And this was the “limiting” recommendation? Throughout the EWG’s report, they tout red meat as most potentially damaging to our health. To be fair, the report does support Meatless Mondays and overall recommends eating less red meat. However, including health warnings almost exclusively about red meat, plus the above AICR and ADA advisement that allows meat 6 days a week, seems like a disconnect of (ahem) meaty proportions. I’m surprised they didn’t realize this overarching contradiction.
#2: Grass-fed, organic pasture-raised meats are hard to find and expensive
Page 19 of the full report and page 6 of the brochure.
The EWG mentions that grass-fed, organic pasture-raised meats, eggs and dairy can be expensive and difficult to find. They don’t explain why! For one thing, over 90% of all animal products are results of factory farming, or, so you’re in the know, they’re also known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). It follows that the majority of stock in supermarkets and restaurants are also factory farmed meat.
Why are the more ethical and environmentally friendly meats expensive? They aren’t. They are actually the price that meat, egg and dairy should be. It’s the other 90% that is priced incorrectly due to farm subsidies, all stemming from the Farm Bill. It might surprise you to learn that average meat prices (in relative terms to other commodity increases) have actually slightly declined since the 1940s. This is due to grain subsidies begun in WWII and the large-scale production of CAFOs. Can you think of anything else that has not only remained cheap, but has gotten cheaper over 70 years? Now there’s an eyebrow-raiser for you.
#3 Beef has the second-highest emissions, more than twice than pork and four times that of chicken
Page 5 of the full report and page 3 of the brochure.
I don’t dispute the EWG’s findings. Given that cows are by far the largest animals of the group, it’s not entirely surprising. I just find this information incomplete. According to Nicolette Hahn Niman, a public figure against factory farming, cows are actually, by far, the most humanely treated overall in CAFOs. (Don’t get me wrong, there are still problems). The problem is that the report might lead readers to increase their consumption of chicken and pork to “eat greener.” The report needs to make it clear that the numbers reported are for animals (and vegetables) that are conventionally produced (aka in CAFOs and not organic). So, increasing your consumption of CAFO pork and chicken might be “greener” but it is by far less ethical and humane. The EWG does recommend to consume less meat period and, when we do, to eat grass-fed, organic pasture-raised meat, but I fear that people will not make this distinction, merely increasing their poultry and pork intake.
The EWG’s recommendations and my resources to help you follow through:
Where to buy certified humane meat in your area by zipcode
What does certified organic meat mean?
Choosing ocean-friendly seafood by region
Whole Foods’ Global Animal Partnership meat ratings program
More informations on methane emissions and factory farms on AdvocateTaste