Letter Forum The Vegetarian Debate As expected, Dr. Stephen Byrnes's article 'The Myths of Vegetarianism' (The Ecologist, Vol.29 No.4, July 1999) has sparked off a heated debate, and The Ecol-ogist has received many letters on the subject - the most important of which we print in this specially extended Letters Forum, and which Stephen Byrnes responds to. Some readers seem to think that the piece was a general attack on vegetarians, or even a tacit approval of factory farming and industrial agriculture! Needless to say, this is not the case. The Ecologist has always maintained that it is modern industrial agriculture which is largely to blame for much of the world's environmental devastation, as well as contributing to the suffering of animals worldwide. Our editorial team (many of whom are vegetarian) are neither 'anti-vegetarian' nor 'pro-meat'. We are, however, pro-debate. The environmental movement should not be afraid to challenge some of its own assumptions. Dr. Byrnes's article, together with your letters, have done just that.
Most environmental organisations defend meat-eating, bizarrely because it is essential to some indigenous people. This isn't some esoteric debate about whether we can or can't eat meat - it's about life or death. The fact that we can eat meat and some people depend upon it is irrelevant. We cannot eat meat on the scale we do without damaging both health and the environment. Even the Inuit, who traditionally depended on fish, tended to die in their early thirties from brain haemorrhage due to fish oil. Chinese peasants lived to more than twice that age on a largely vegetarian diet.
Excuses Excuses "Diets associated with increases in chronic diseases are those rich in sugar, meat and other animal products, saturated fat and dietary cholesterol... I f such trends continue, the end of this century will see cardiovascular disease and cancer established as major health problems in every country in the world."
The World Health Organisation report of 1991 from which this quote is drawn, was a profound condemnation of the West's dependence on an animalbased diet. Our society's determination to go on eating animal protein is a primary cause of degradation of land, sea and air and is dispossessing the Earth's poor. Stephen Byrnes believes the opposite. But anyone who can construct a thesis around the claim that saturated fat consumption has not increased this century can't be taken seriously. Since 1946, the number of food animals killed annually in the UK has increased from 51.6 million to over 800 million, all of them laced with saturated fat and cholesterol. It is similar everywhere in the Western world. I counted a further 30 glaring false assumptions and misquoted science before I gave up in despair.
These are the facts. Vegetarians suffer less from all degenerative diseases - coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes and clogged arteries, cancers, diabetes, gall bladder and kidney disease, osteoporosis and
intestinal disorders. The better health outcomes of vegetarians are profound 25 to 60 per cent less risk of coronary heart disease and around 40 per cent less risk of cancer. There are no nutrients lacking in a vegetarian diet, and vegetarians live longer than most meat eaters. Over the last few years there has been a deluge of science to support this and five minutes on the Internet will confirm it.
Meat production is as damaging to the globe as it is to our health and one reason is this - it takes about 10 kg of vegetable protein to produce 1 kg of beef protein. Even i f reared organically and free-range, meat farming is still the most wasteful and inefficient method of food production imaginable. As the number of people in the world increases, the amount of land available to feed them decreases - alarmingly so. On a diet where just 35 per cent of calories are provided by animal protein, the world can support just 2.6 billion people. On a vegetarian diet it can support today's six billion - and more. Environmentalists have to grasp this.
In Britain, 90 per cent of land is used for grazing or fodder crops but it isn't enough. High-quality food is sucked in from the developing world, the same countries where populations are starving. Even during its disastrous famine of 1991, Ethiopia was exporting fodder to the West. A total area the size of the UK, France, Italy and New Zealand is taken up by fodder for the West.
It is a complete cop out to pretend concern for indigenous people as an excuse not to change your diet when it is your diet which is destroying their way of life. The oceans typify this. Local communities who subsisted on the world's mangrove swamps have been devastated. Fish and prawn farms, again producing mostly for the West, have destroyed over 70 per cent of these ocean nurseries in the sub-tropical regions. With them have gone the breeding grounds for 2,000 species of fish, crustaceans and plants - as well as people.
Historically, humans have eaten very little meat, despite what Dr. Byrnes believes, and the only hope for the future is to move back to that. Yet still we are building our food supplies on the backs of diseased, drugged and dejected animals, living in an increasingly diseased and drugged world. Environmentalists should face these facts rather than looking for badly researched excuses to carry on eating meat.
Tony Wardle, Deputy Director, Viva! UK
Byrnes is Wrong The article 'Myths of Vegetarianism' simply has to be replied to.
Myth 2: "B12". Primates get B12 from bacteria on fruit, which, ingested, continue to metabolise in the gut. Organically grown foods will often contain traces of bacteria from the soil
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 6, October 1999 LETTERS
or even fragments of insects which are hard to see. When foods are grown with pesticides however, bacteria are exterminated, and the processing of food for storage and looks will remove any traces of B12. Does Dr. Byrnes think livestock are born with it?
Myth 4: In fact people have been eating meat in only small quantities through most of history. Only with the advent of land enclosure, livestock monoculture and factory farming could we eat meat in big quantities. The Inuit, Maasai and Australian Aborigines exert themselves greatly. Just so the Hunza and Caucasian peasant farmers. They use their bones, hearts and calories. For the less vigorous, high protein intake markedly causes osteoporosis: it requires more calcium than meat contains to metabolise the proteins. So it is withdrawn from bones. We have been misled as to how much protein we need by the meat industry and its sponsored scientists: human mother's milk contains only two per cent protein - for our period of fastest growth.
Myth 10: "Designed for meat". The herbivore cow has now been fed animal parts. Plainly its four stomachs and pancreas have coped. That something is possible when tried does not mean that therefore it is necessary. In our case, the less animal products we eat the less hydrochloric acid is produced. Hydrochloric acid is not secreted by the glands in the stomach when carbohydrates are eaten. High levels of hydrochloric acid require our stomach to produce increased mucus to protect itself. This passes into the intestines and coats the walls in a rubbery, permanent layer. Food is absorbed through these walls of hardened excrement into the bloodstream. It means reduced absorption, and a constant stream of toxins into the blood.
Myth 11. Modern mass systems of slaughter, long-distance transport and sale in supermarkets permit bacterial growth in meat, e.g. Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter. When frankfurters from all over the USA were studied, over 40 per cent of them had bacteria growing in them.
Is Byrnes saying that there is enough land to feed the world's population from free-range, organic meat and dairy? I f not, then we return to the hormones, antibiotics, nitrates, and concentrated pesticides in meat which he condemns. To large-scale use of land
and high water usage in poor nations to grow cash crops for our livestock feed: to unbelievable cruelty in factory farms.
Paul Jameson, Essex, UK
Byrnes is Right Thanks for publishing Dr. Byrnes's article. The piece gives a fuller picture than the 'politically correct' types generally encountered. People who believe one-diet-must-fit-all are usually unaware of the diverse dietary adaptations of biological systems uncovered by anthropology and animal science, as well as the experience gained by health practitioners in clinical practice.
As a nutritionist, I worked with high animal protein, low carbohydrate diets at The Atkins Center in New York and saw benefits to many heart disease and diabetic patients. I saw unhealthy vegetarians who suffered from autoimmune diseases or cancers improve on animal protein (with its natural vitamin B12 and heme iron) and good animal fats in their diets. I also know healthy vegetarians, but they work hard at it. Nutrition is a complicated, evolving field, Thanks to scientific investigations, we learn new facts daily in the intricacies of health and diet. Meat, fish and eggs can be good foods and have been a healthy mainstay of many cultures, Nutritonional protocols should be individualised based on an analysis of a person's metabolism, genetics and therapeutic needs at the moment.
The scrimmage between vegetarians and omnivores is not new. Each side has its database. In my opinion, we should agree to stand united against our common enemies, which are those who threaten the nutritional integrity of all food and who continually undermine our ability to stay healthy in an increasingly toxic world.
Lee Clifford, MS, CCN, USA
Contaminated Meat Several things puzzle me about The Myths of Vegetarianism'. Here are just two.
First Dr. Byrnes boasts that he "recently saved two vegans from death from anaemia (iron and B12) by convincing them to eat generous amounts of dairy products". How
brilliant of him. Silly me had always thought that the best sources of iron were dark green vegetables. I would love to know which dairy products are rich in iron.
Second, in his vigorous defence of meat Dr. Byrnes doesn't seem to think it worth mentioning that meat is now invariably contaminated with pesticides and drugs - many of which are carcinogenic. Does he regard this fact as too insignificant to mention? Is it not possible that this could explain why meat now kills far more people than it used to?
Finally, i f Dr. Byrnes would like to know of evidence showing (conclusively) that meat causes cancer, I suggest that he toddle along to his local library and borrow a copy of my book Power Over Cancer (published by the European Medical Journal).
Vernon Coleman. MB ChB DSc Professor of Holistic Medical Sciences UK
More Studies Needed Though I have not read Dr. Byrnes's sources, I distrust an author who categorically says, for example, that "Vegans who do not supplement their diet with Vitamin B12 will eventually get pernicious anaemia... as well as nervous and digestive system damage."
What we need are careful studies following non-smoking vegans from birth to death - people raised on leafy greens, legumes, nuts, seeds, fresh fruits and grains, with some of their food processed from these sources (tofu, tempeh, seitan, olive oil, sherbet, rice milk, bread, etc.).
In the meantime, it does not seem to be any more 'natural' to drink the milk of the nursing mothers of other species, or to drink any mammalian milk after being weaned, than to take vitamin supplements. Nor has an argument been made merely by citing the fact that people in various cultures consume or have consumed large quantities of animal products. A few years ago, I read a book by Dr. Anna Kingsford that cited passages from 18th - and 19th century British travellers' memoirs and letters marvelling over the vigour and longevity of peasants in different parts of the world who subsisted on potatoes, barley or beans.
The fact that various world religions have included killing animals and appropriating their milk and eggs for
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 6, October 1999