Processed Meat

Meat has more of an impact on the environment than any other food humans consume. This is because livestock requires so much water, food, land, and energy to raise and transport. Below is what goes into just one quarter-pound of hamburger meat. And it does not include the animal’s waste and methane emissions from digestion:

meat in us

Meat consumption in the United states has risen dramatically in the past century.  Even though there are fewer cattle now than there were in 1970’s, we still eat more meat per person here in the U.S than in almost any other country on the planet. An American, on average 71 pounds of red meat (beef, pork and lamb) a year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In a 2012 poll, 56 percent of 3000 applicants said they ate meat one to four times a week, and 31 percent ate it five or more time a week. Interestingly, 39 percent of the applicants said they were eating less meat than they had three years before. Why? Concern of the health effects was the top reason, following was the cost.
meat chart

Last year, the World Health Organization used its megaphone to publicize the link between cancer and excessive red meat consumption. In October of 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) a research organization within the World Health Organization (WHO), released a report linking processed meat to an increased risk of cancer. The IARC found a direct link between processed meats and colon cancer. The IARC estimated that every 50-gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colon cancer by about 18 percent. Processed meats has been classified as a group 1 carcinogen by the IARC, meaning there is large evidence to support it causes cancer. This means that processed meats are in the same category are as tobacco smoking and asbestos. Meats like bacon, deli meats, sausage, and hot dogs.  These are most often beef and pork products, but they include any meat that has undergone salting, curing, fermenting, and smoking. All processes that are for “enhancing flavor” or preserving. Based on large amounts of evidence, it is safe to say we should avoid processed meats. Reducing the intake of processed meats would likely reduce the risk of cancer.

Looking into the production side of the meat industry in the U.S., it is the largest segment of U.S. agriculture. The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released an overview of the United States Slaughter Industry. In 2015, beef and veal exports totaled over $5.15 billion, pork exports totaled over $4.01 billion and chicken exports totaled over $2.79 billion.  The poultry industry has seen a significant growth in the last two and a half decades. A study by North American Meat Institute (NAMI) estimates that, in total, the meat industry contributes about $894 billion to the US economy. That of course converts into political power.  The USDA is suppose to regulate the meat industry but it also promotes it simultaneously. For example, every time the U.S. government released dietary advice, it generally ends up favoring and promoting the industry.  CNBC released an article stating globally meat prices have risen every month so far this year according to data released Thursday by a United Nations agency. But consumers are the ones seeing these raises.  For most food products in the U.S., consumers tend to be very insensitive to price changes because food items typically compose a small percentage of their budget.

Looking forward for America, there needs to be more honesty in the advertising from some of these companies. With meat consumption rising in the US, Americans should know what is going is going into their own bodies. Millions of Americans are adding carcinogens into their bodies every day.

Ruscigno, Matt. “Processed meats, risky business.” Environmental Nutrition, May 2017, p. 3. Environmental Studies and Policy, Accessed 12 Oct. 2017.



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