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Red meat has a bad PR problem. Two recent meta-analysesone published in 2009 and one in 2011linked red meat consumption to increased colon cancer risk. In May, the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund reaffirmed conclusions from an earlier comprehensive report, saying that the evidence for a relationship between red meat and colon cancer is convincing.
And its not just cancer; a study published just last week found that adults who consume 4 ounces of red meat per day have a 20 percent increased risk for developing diabetes.
The evidence strongly suggests that its a good idea for everyone to reduce their intake of red and processed meats. But from the animals perspective, this is not necessarily great news. Thats because many of these studies find that other animal foodswhich can easily replace red meat in the dietdont carry the same risks. There is no compelling body of evidence to suggest that eating white meat raises cancer risk and, some research suggests that replacing red meat with white meat lowers risk. (This is not to say that white meat is itself protective or has any particular health benefits. Its probably neutral and therefore lowers risk when it replaces harmful red meat.)

People are likely to react to news about the dangers of red and processed meats by replacing these foods with other meatsfrom fish and chickensand in the process cause suffering to many, many more animals.

Assuming that one steer provides around 450 pounds of meat, a person eating a pound of beef per week would be responsible for the death of one steer every 8 ½ years or so. Replace that pound of beef a week with a pound of chicken (assuming that the average chicken yields 2 pounds of meat) and the number of animals killed would be about 220 chickens over the same time period. In fact, even if the health-conscious, meat-shunning consumer chose to reduce her meat intake by 75 percenteating just 4 ounces of meat per week and getting all of it as chicken fleshshe would still be responsible for the death of more than 50 birds over that 8 ½ year period.
And not only do more animals die when people replace red meat with chicken in their diet, but chickens and other birds live and die under conditions that are horrible even by the usual horrible standards of modern farming.
Red and processed meat consumption is a serious public health concern, and people need to know about the importance of reducing these foods in their diets. But publicizing every new study about the hazards of red meat doesnt promote veganism; it promotes animal suffering. A message about a vegan ethic, on the other hand, is a double win. It helps reduce animal suffering while also encouraging people to eliminate hazardous foods from their diets.

Edited on 3/13/12 : A study just published online in the Archives of Internal Medicine (Ill add a link when it appears in pub med) found that all types of red meat are associated with increased risk for cancer and heart disease. Just 3 ounces a day of red meat was associated with a 13% increased risk of dying during the course of the study. The researchers also found that replacing red meat with poultry or low-fat dairy foods decreased risk as much or more than replacing it with legumes. This is another example of how a focus on the health risks of red meat in particular doesnt necessarily translate to a positive vegan message.
^ This is an excellent article about why the "health argument" can sometimes backfire when people are trying to promote what they consider a vegan diet.

I've seen lots and lots of my veg friends gleefully pass along any info against red meat on their fb walls and other social networking sites - but to what end? To what gain for the suffering of animals, especially the smallest ones? The ones classified as "white meat". I know plenty of people who don't eat red meat. I can't compliment them on that, nor the people who propagate the information that led them to that decision. They're causing more animals to die than when they ate red meat!

The simple fact of the matter is that, as far as land animal farming goes, egg and poultry purchases cause the largest number of animals to die. (This number is still massively dwarfed by the sheer death caused by fishing.) As an animal advocate who wants to see less suffering in the world, could I with a good conscience potentially lead people to cause more harm instead of less? Food for thought indeed.

What's our goal? To get people to eat less of a certain kind of meat or to do the most good?
 

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I don't think it has to be all or nothing, you can point out the facts about the health risks of red meat and still talk about the ethical/environmental/health issues with consuming animal products in general.
 

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Originally Posted by Josh James xVx View Post

This is an excellent article about why the "health argument" can sometimes backfire when people are trying to promote what they consider a vegan diet.

I've seen lots and lots of my veg friends gleefully pass along any info against red meat on their fb walls and other social networking sites - but to what end? To what gain for the suffering of animals, especially the smallest ones? The ones classified as "white meat". I know plenty of people who don't eat red meat. I can't compliment them on that, nor the people who propagate the information that led them to that decision. They're causing more animals to die than when they ate red meat!

The simple fact of the matter is that, as far as land animal farming goes, egg and poultry purchases cause the largest number of animals to die. (This number is still massively dwarfed by the sheer death caused by fishing.) As an animal advocate who wants to see less suffering in the world, could I with a good conscience potentially lead people to cause more harm instead of less? Food for thought indeed.

What's our goal? To get people to eat less of a certain kind of meat or to do the most good?
It's worth noting that Ginny Messina is a dietitian, not a professor of sociology or psychology.

I've seen no clear evidence that suggests that the long-term consequences of informing people about the health risks of consuming mammal flesh is bad for the animal movement. In fact, I think it's important to spread the news about the dangers of "red meat" because:
- People have a right to know the truth
- When people find that they are able to make a significant dietary change from one meat to another, the notion of switching from animal protein to plant protein is not as daunting
- When people reduce their animal product consumption for any reason they become more psychologically open to understanding/accepting veganism
- As people expand their "circle of compassion" it's reasonable to assume that expansion would progress starting with those most like "us" and moving on to those who are least similar. It makes perfect sense that people who move away from eating mammals may eat more birds and fishes, but may later stop eating birds and fish when they realize that those animals are more similar to humans than previously thought.
- Even if the above statement doesn't occur within the same person, it's likely to occur over the course of a generation or two. For example, the children of lacto-ovo vegetarians are often vegan.
- Recent predictions of poultry consumption say that Americans are eating less and less. So I doubt that news about "red meat" will drastically change that.
- There are plenty of "health arguments" against the consumption of poultry products too: salmonella and campylobacter, cholesterol and saturated fat, drug-resistant diseases, etc.
- There are other good reasons to stop eating birds and fishes: environmental, animal welfare/rights, even economic reasons.
 
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