Responding to recent calls by environmental groups such as WWF and Friends of the Earth (FOE) to dramatically reduce meat consumption, Philip Ridley of nutritional charity the Weston A. Price Foundation told Globalmeatnews.com that grass-fed meat is a vital source of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids, and that advising people to avoid it could have dire consequences for health.
“Grass fed meat has a healthy balance of omega 3 and omega 6 and is rich in minerals and vitamins A and K2. Animals also produce vitamin D from sunshine. Fat soluble vitamins A, D and K2 are required to metabolise protein and utilise minerals in the diet.
"The ‘sustainable’ low fat diet is therefore a recipe for nutritional deficiencies and degenerative disease,” he said.
Ridley added that the theory that meat and saturated fat cause heart disease and cancer had never been scientifically proven and was based on biased and flawed research.
“Many health charities claiming to fight diseases like heart disease run with this flawed research to promote low fat plant based diets,” he said. “One worrying trend is their alliances with environmental charities who share the same vegetarian agenda, including recent joint research between FOE and the British Heart Foundation.”
Prominent nutritional scientist Barry Groves also warned of the health dangers of a low meat diet. “The current dramatic increases in the ‘diseases of civilisation’ such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and many more, are all directly attributable to eating an ‘eat well’, carbohydrate-based, low-fat diet,” he said.
“We, like every other mammal on this planet, are designed and adapted to a high-fat, low- or no-carb diet. We should eat more meat. And meat is entirely sustainable if the animals are fed their natural diets.”
Groves pointed out that humans rely on livestock to turn grasslands unsuitable for crop production into food. “With so little of the Earth’s surface available for cultivation and the production of plant food for our every-growing population, not to make use of this enormous resource would surely be the height of stupidity,” he said.
Ridley pointed out that grazing livestock are also vital to rebuilding topsoils, the loss of which is currently posing a huge threat to biodiversity and global food security.
“The demonisation of livestock puts our farmland at great risk because the periodic grazing of livestock is necessary to re-build top-soil and fertility in farms that produce grains and vegetables,” he said.
Grain fed vs grass fed
Both Ridley and Groves stressed that a distinction needed to be made between grass-fed meat and intensively reared grain-fed meat, which they said was less healthy and more environmentally damaging.
“The meat industry shouldn’t however be let entirely off the hook. The grain-based diets of high input farming results in fat with too much omega 6 and not enough omega 3, and animals that do not have access to green grass and sunshine lack the vital fat soluble vitamins,” said Ridley.
“This intensive farming model does cause environmental damage because land which could be used for bio-diverse grassland is being ploughed for mono-culture grain production”.
However, they insisted that grass-fed meat is a vital component of a sustainable diet. “We can sustain our current population on a species-specific diet if we eat meat grown in its natural environment. It is the WWF’s proposed answer that is unsustainable,” said Groves.
Promotion of grass-fed meat could provide opportunities for producers in the UK, where 80% of beef cattle diets and 90% of sheep diets are grass.