The true cost of cheap meat

Last month, at a conference of the Federation of Animal Welfare organisations (FIAPO) I met an Englishman who has written a truly remarkable book called Farmageddon published by Bloomsbury – The true cost of Cheap Meat. His name is Philip Limbery. I recommend that all of you buy it – especially those that eat meat. The word Farmageddon is a twist of the word Armageddon, the ultimate battle between the forces of good and evil.

In the book one chapter deals with the fact that people who eat meat, thinking they are getting high protein from meat are, instead, getting, high levels of fat.

Let me explain how:

Factory farming – the growing of animal for meat – is a 21st century phenomenon and has been responsible for the huge epidemic in obesity, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.  People trying to lead a healthy lifestyle are often told to eat meat rather than cakes. But is roast chicken or mutton healthier? Factory farming is based on feeding sick animals hormones, antibiotics and those foods that make them fatter faster. In the course of a hundred years the nutritional value of the meat has been stripped away and the fat content has soared. To quote the author “Scientists claim that you have to eat four entire factory farmed chickens to benefit from the same level of some nutrients as you would from a single organic chicken in the 1970s”. According to Prof. Michael Crawford of the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Nutrition, “The intensification of animal farming has virtually destroyed the nutritional quality of the food”. In his study published in the premier medical magazine Lancet he highlights the difference between the fat content of factory produced animals – piggeries, poultries, cattle pens, rabbit farms etc. – and their “wild” counterparts. His research reveals that the ratio of “bad”(saturated) to “good” (polyunsaturated) fats in factory animals is 50:1 as compared to less than 3:1 in naturally grown animals. This article was written ten years ago. The latest finds show that the situation is even worse now. According to one study, if the population reduced its intake of saturated fat from meat by only 30%, rates of heart disease would fall by 15% and the rate of premature deaths would be much lower.

Industrially grown animals are selected to grow fat fast. They are supposed to get obese in the shortest possible time as their dead bodies are weighed for sale. They are fed only that food that puts on weight and get no exercise. As a result the meat is marbled with excess fat. Meats like sausages and koftas come from fatty cuts of meat. The amount of fat found in a serving of meat is totally dependent on what the animal was fed. Data from 76 separate studies found that meat, milk and eggs produced in factory conditions contained more fat and less nutrients than from those animals that roamed free. Pasture reared beef has 25-50% less fat and chicken less than 50%.

Polyunsaturated fats contain Omega 3 and Omega 6 (which is of little value).  The human body has evolved to eat the same levels of both. But in actual fact people who eat meat eat more than 25 times more Omega 6 than Omega 3. This is because the animals grown industrially from meat are no longer fed grass or any greens which contain Omega 3. They are force fed on a diet of just grain. Even hay will not help. A diet that excludes fresh forage has very little Omega 3, according to a study done in 2010. Pasture reared cattle have 2.5 times higher essential Omega 3  nutrients, chicken has 5 times higher, pigs have 40% higher, eggs have 30% and milk has 100% higher. This is an important statistic because the lack of Omega 3 has been linked to cancer and heart disease.

Free range eggs have double the amount of Vitamin E – an important nutrient in protecting the immune system. Free range eggs also have three times as much beta-carotene which becomes Vitamin A in the body, maintaining healthy eyes, bones and cells. Free range pig meat has 60% higher Vitamin E. Milk from cows that have been fed well – and not just grain and hay – has 180% more beta-carotene. But you, in India, only get to eat factory meat, eggs and milk.

This belief that chicken is high protein and low fat and can be had for diets is no longer true. Poultry raised chickens are now 20% fat and contain 40% more fat than protein. This is because of decades of selective breeding for fat chickens and ofcourse a terrible hormone and grain based diet.

In 2005 a study done by Crawford’s scientists of modern chicken meat revealed that now chicken contained three times more fat than chickens in 1970 and 33% less protein – which means it contains more than 50% more calories now. It also contains 80% less Omega 3. Chickens need to eat grass, seeds and insects. Instead they are given cardboard, grain, their own mashed up brothers and ofcourse hormones and antibiotics. The poultry owners call it “food conversion efficiency” meaning the fattest birds at the lowest cost. They are kept in jammed, confined conditions to reduce labour costs and between the time they are born to the time they are killed, they are not allowed to move. Movement would “waste energy”. Such chickens are not protein rich but fat rich. Anyone who eats this meat in the belief that they will lose weight and still remain healthy is heading for a major illness.

Not only is the factory raised animal fat-filled and sick, feeding grain to animals is ridiculous. Cows and sheep normally ate grass which people did not eat. Pigs and chickens ate scraps, left overs and foraged for things that people did not want. Now to feed them human grain when so many people starve is a crime. It takes eleven kilos of grain to make one kilo of meat or chicken. Can we afford it? Is it producing healthier meat, milk or eggs? No, because it is an unnatural food. So we starve our people to feed grain to animals who did not want it to begin with. Then we eat their sick bodies and make ourselves ill.

Is there any sense in this?


Maneka Sanjay Gandhi


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*Proper wildlife rehabilitation is an extremely biologically and ecologically responsible attitude toward all living things.*