Effects of a high meat diet on public health: Robert S Lawrence MD at TEDxManhattan

Effects of a high meat diet on public health: Robert S Lawrence MD at TEDxManhattan


Translator: Leonardo Silva
Reviewer: Ilze Garda Good morning. I can improve on that 11-year-old, saying, “You either pay the hospital,
or you pay the farmer,” and I’m here to make a pitch
for paying the farmer. Fifty years ago, when I was
a medical student in Boston, we were in the midst
of the cardiovascular disease epidemic. I learned to do a history exam,
and do the physical examination, order the laboratory studies
and all the rest of it on accute miocardial infarction
victims as young as thirty. Some of you may remember that. Some of you may have lost
parents prematurely to that cardiovascular disease epidemic. At that time, much of the fat
in the American diet was still not directly linked
to coronary heart disease. A little bit down the road
from where I was studying medicine was the first major longitudinal
analysis of the relationship between how we lived,
how we ate, what we smoked, and whether or not we got chronic disease. It was called the Framingham study. And gradually, we began to appreciate that the amount of high-density
lipoprotein in our bloodstream causing stroke,
accute miocardial infarction, and shortening our lives was coming
largely from the saturated fat in the meat that we were eating. Most of that meat, however,
was still being raised on family farms, and it was our inapropriate valuing
of highly marbled steaks and other high-fat content meat
that was the problem, not the way the animals were being raised. Now, today, we have a problem of public health impact on the way
in which our high-meat diet drives the food production system. I’m going to briefly talk about everything
from the molecular level to the global level,
in the next ten minutes. At the molecular level,
we have these hidden ingredients. We have arsenic
coming through feather meal. I bet a lot of you don’t know
about feather meal. 600 million kilograms – that’s about 1.3 billion pounds
of feathers – every year are stripped away
from the chickens and the turkeys we eat. They’re hydrolyzed, they’re pressed
to get rid of remaining fat, they’re chopped up, and they are fed back to our pigs, to our cows, to our chickens. Some is used as a organic fertilizer, some is used as a biodiesel ingredient, but most of it gets recycled. In the center of this graphic
is the arsenic that gets recycled. At the bottom are the antibiotics
that you’ve heard about. They go into the birds we eat. But then, when the feathers are recovered, the arsenic, now in its
highly toxic inorganic form, class-one carcinogen, is fed back into the food system, and bioaccumulates in the very birds
that have shed those feathers, the next generation. And it ends up in the grocery store
and on our dinner plates. The antibiotic resistance story
has already been laid out in great detail. But just a reminder: we have
about 3.3 million kilograms that are used to treat disease
in the human population; an increasing amount of that disease, of course, coming from eating
the contaminated meat products that are being raised under conditions
that produce the antibiotic resistance. The rest of our diet
– this is a little primer on nutrition – most of you probably know
that for every gram of vegetable there are four kilocalories of energy. And if you’re watching your diet and you’re trying to stay
within that 2,000-calories-a-day range, you know that the more vegetables you eat, the more protein you eat,
and the less fat you eat, the easier it is to stay
within that caloric limitation. Much of the fat that we consume today is accompanying the 65% of dietary protein that the average American derives
from eating animals or animal products. 65%. Globally, the average is about 30%. And there are very healthy people
within our own society, vegetarians, vegans,
Seventh-day Adventists, who derive 100% of their protein
from grains, fruits, and vegetables. Now, the next impact is on farm families, their neighbors,
and rural communities. This video was shot in Duplin County,
a year and a half ago, by one of my colleagues
at the Center for a Liveable Future, for a film that he produced with the Maryland Institute
College of Art. This is liquid feces and urine,
being sprayed over crop fields, but if the wind is wrong in Duplin County, there are farm families
and their neighbors that get liquid waste sprayed
on the front of their house, and on their automobile
parked in their driveway. It is disgusting. We also have a real problem
with the relationship between the concentration
of this waste, from these CAFOs. No longer is that animal waste
being used as natural manure to restore nitrogen to the pastureland. People who are growing
pasture-raised animals are doing the right thing;
we should support them. When you concentrate
all the animals in these barns, their waste stays concentrated. We, 310 million Americans, produce 7 million dry tons
of waste ourselves every year. 4 million tons of that are returned to the soil, after it has been treated
in treatment plants. Animal waste, forty times more
than human waste, and none of it is treated. And that’s what goes
into these big open cesspits, euphemistically called “lagoons,” or it gets trucked out
from the turkey or the poultry plant, poultry growers, and spread on fields
often in abundance, above the ability of the plants
to take it up and use all the nutrients. Finally, we have a global responsibilty to do our part in feeding the world. The late Norman Borlaug,
who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work on developing
high-yield wheat varieties in Mexico, that then led to the Green Revolution
in Latin America and Asia, he was asked by the Union
of Concerned Scientists, around 1996, to look forward:
“What would we be able to do when the world’s population
reached 8 billion people by 2025?” He said, “Well, if we could get everybody eating mostly
fruits, vegetables, and grains, we could feed 9.5 to 10 billion people.” In other words, we’d have a safety margin of 1.5 billion extra mouths
that could be fed. However, if we continue the export
of our high-meat North American diet, as we’re now sadly seeing
among urban elites, even in the lowest-income
countries around the world, we would only be able to feed
about 3.5 to 4 billion people. So, when you eat right, when you support the farmer
who is raising beef, ungrained, the way Fred Kusherman does, the way Terry Spence does
with his cow-calf operation in Missouri, we are contributing
to eating higher-quality food, in smaller propotions, and paying the farmer
instead of the hospital, and making more available
for people around the world. A healthy high-vegetable,
fruit and grain diet is our global citizenship responsibility. And then, finally,
each of us has the opportunity to learn more about the food system
as we’re doing today, not to just engage our friends
and neighbors, our politicians, to lobby, to advocate, but engage internally,
change our own behavior, and then reform the food system together. The left-hand picture is a farmers’ market
in Highlandtown, Baltimore. We, at the Center for a Livable Future,
are engaging our neighbors, we’re supporting our local farmers, we’re educating people about the benefits
of maybe paying a little bit more and getting a much higher quality of food, a much healthier kind of food, and being connected with the people
who are growing that food for us. The center represents volunteers at an organic farm
in Lincoln, Massachusetts. We can go out; I’m proud to say that in September
my wife and I helped harvest, in a gleaning project
for the United Way of Central Maryland, over 800 pounds of potatoes, per person, and there were 35 of us out there. And we did this in about a 4-hour period. It was fabulous, made me feel good. The potatoes were used
to help food pantries throughout that part of the state. There are a lot of things we can do,
even as busy as we are. And finally, on the right
is a community meeting also in the city of Baltimore, to go over the details
of a food availability assessment that had been conducted
by our Eating For The Future program, at the Center. As you can see from the photo, this is a typical mixed population
of inner city people who are thinking carefully
about what comes next, as they try to raise
their families in a healthy way. So, if we are going to engage
– personal engagement – we have to eat 21 times a week. In the year 2000, the then Surgeon General
said, in “Healthy People 2010”, one of the goals for the nation by 2010 was to reduce the content
of our satured fat by 15%. Now, how many of you in the audience could, 21 times a week,
look at your plate and say, “I’m going to leave this because that’s about 15%
of the saturated fat on the plate”? None of us could do that,
not even a trained nutritionist. But one day a week is 15% of the week. So the Meatless Monday compaign,
here in New York, worked with us. We provided some of the scietific input
and fact checking and so forth, and this now has gone viral. It’s not just all across North America.
It’s around the world. And you can participate. CSAs, this is a great way to support
local farming communities that are trying to do the right thing by growing healthy food
in a sustainable way. Slow Food, USDA, certified organic, all of these things should be
uppermost in your mind when you’re on the demand
side of the equation, buying from the food system. If enough of us on the demand side
influence through our choices, we will transform the food system,
and the supply side will follow. Thank you very much. (Applause)