The Plant-Based Paradox

There has been a lot of momentum generated for the plant-based (vegetarian, vegan) diet over the last several years. With the prevalence of the climate change – formerly “global warming” – agenda, the plant-based diet has become very en vogue, and given rise to plant protein meat substitutes companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.

I have already written about nutritional considerations for plant-based diets, which you can find here, so I don’t plan to rehash that aspect of the debate too much in this post. Instead, I aim to focus more on the agricultural effects of and differences between grass-fed animal-based, grain-fed animal-based and plant-based diets. However, since grain-fed animal agriculture is a driving force behind deforestation, I do intent to look at the alternative solutions, like pasture-raising livestock, and their potential benefits to both ecological conservation and health.

One of the biggest arguments against a diet containing animal products, besides the inhumane treatment of animals in the industrial farming system – is deforestation. The forests of South America, including the Brazilian Amazon and Atlantic forest are particularly of concern. The main culprit for this deforestation is the production of soy.

Nearly 80 percent of soy produced globally is used in animal feed, while the remaining 20 percent is consumed by humans, either directly (6%) or in the form of soy oil (13%).

Soy Production Growth
And, according to a 2014 World Wide Fund for Nature report, “soy production is expected to increase rapidly as economic development leads to higher animal protein consumption, especially in developing and emerging countries. Recent FAO projections suggest an increase to 515 million tonnes by 2050 (Bruinsma, 2009); others project a 2.2 percent increase per year until 2030 (Masuda and Goldsmith, 2009). While the scale of some of these projections has been questioned (e.g., Grethe et al., 2011), there is no doubt that soy demand is continuing to increase. Soy consumption in China doubled in the last decade, from 26.7 million tonnes in 2000 to 55 million tonnes in 2009, of which 41 million tonnes were imported; China’s imports are projected to increase by 59 percent by 2021-22.”

Clearly, this is old data, as this last projection is for the current year. Fortunately, I was able to find data for 2020, and WWF’s prediction actually came in as low. China consumed 106 million tons of soybeans last year, mostly in the form of grain for animal feed.

So what are some of the driving forces behind this growth in consumption? The WWF report alludes to “changes in dietary trends” and “population growth” as the largest contributing factors, but doesn’t get down to specifics.

“Along with ever-increasing demand from China, the markets in Africa and the Middle East are projected to expand rapidly in the next decade (USDA, 2012). World population growth and dietary trends will have a major influence on future demand for soy.”

WWF Soy Report

Population growth it a straightforward enough concept, but I wish the report elaborated on the projections for “dietary trends”. It gives concrete examples from the past, when explaining that,

Between 1967 and 2007, pork production rose by 294 percent, egg production by 353 percent and poultry meat by 711 percent (FAO, 2011); over the same period, the relative costs of these products declined. Soy meal has been an essential component in this…
…Increased production of livestock is particularly noticeable in countries with a high demand for soy, with China producing over 50 million tonnes of pork in 2010, almost half the global total (Schneider, 2011).

WWF, The Growth of Soy

Again, figures from the past, but no explanation of future projections, which for the record, rely on the same [FAO] study for every claim made. Beyond that, the projected figures are for global increases, there are no China-specific projections, let alone past growth numbers.

Obviously, the assumption is that the majority of the increased demand will come in the form of soy meal for animal feed, as the global demand for “cheap meat” grows.

The report states, “as with many other natural resources, the future of soy will be increasingly dominated by the demands of the Chinese market. China’s economic development is leading to higher meat consumption.”

However, it goes on the say that the import figures are inflated, as they do not account for soy meal exported to China.

Wait… come again??

So does this mean they are only factoring in the 6% of soybeans produced globally that remain whole beans, which “may be eaten as a vegetable, or crushed and incorporated into tofu, tempeh, soy milk or soy sauce?

And does the number also include exports, as it states “all soybeans traded internationally”?

If nearly 80 percent of the gross production of soy is turned into soy meal for animal feed and other, lesser uses, the claim that, “by 2019-20 China… …could account for over 85% of global trade,” is largely bunk.

Population “growth”
I want to further investigate the population growth claim.

Despite the WWF report’s claims that world population growth – particularly in China – will increase demand for soy, according to the UN’s World Population Prospects 2019,

“Although still growing, global population is predicted to level out around the end of the 21st century, and some sources predict the start of a decline before then. The principal cause of this phenomenon is the abrupt decline in the global total fertility rate, from 5.0 in 1960 to 2.5 in 2016.

Examples of this emerging trend are Japan, whose population is currently (2015–2020) declining at the rate of 0.2% per year, and China, whose population could start declining in 2027 or sooner. By 2050, Europe’s population is projected to be declining at the rate of 0.3% per year.[2]

UN World Population Prospects 2019

These (more current) figures call into question the claims made by WWF for increasing demand of soy in China through at least 2050. Regardless, my assumption is that what is meant, is that as more of the population is raised to middle class status, the demand for meat will grow.

Maybe, since “Europe imports predominantly soy meal” as the WWF report explained, and its population isn’t predicted to start shrinking until 2050, most of this growth in demand will come from the EU. As already mentioned, soy meal is largely the primary factor for the the falling costs and rising production of soy.

“The combination of rapidly rising production and falling costs has only been possible through the use of industrial farming: most pigs and poultry are kept indoors and rely on protein-rich feed to speed growth rate.”

WWF, The Growth of Soy

“Protein-rich feed” is largely in reference to soy meal.

The 2014 Netflix documentary, Cowspiracy, had a profound effect on creating momentum for the plant-based movement. And while I laud the film’s exposure of unethical factory farming practices and the environmental footprint and rainforest devastation caused by animal husbandry, there are several assumptions and claims that I feel must be addressed.

One of these assertions is that,

“You can produce, on average, 15x more protein from plant-based sources than from meat, on any given area of land, using the same type of land. Whether it’s a very fertile area in one area of the world, or it’s an area that’s depleted.”

Author Richard Oppenlander, Cowspiracy

Here is the math behind that claim, taken from the Cowspiracy website’s “facts” page:

Who eats dry, whole soybeans? Not even livestock animals. The audience would be better served if the numbers reflected the amount of protein per pound of soy meal, which is crushed or pressed, and then often further processed with a solvent to extract the oil. The residue is known as soy meal. Or better yet, protein content of soy protein isolate or soy oil, as those are the most common forms used for human consumption.

More importantly, however, is their figure relies on the assumption that all proteins are of the same quality, and are just as bioavailable (digestable) to the body, as well as equally effective for muscle protein synthesis. According to,

Soy was inferior to whey protein in regards to synthesizing protein for muscle but performed better than casein. Researchers concluded that this could be due to digestion rate or leucine content (7).

Similarly, a review study found that whey protein supports muscle protein synthesis better than soy protein in young people and older adults, Soy Protein: Good or Bad?

Nutrition Profile of Soy vs. Animal Products

“Soy is a source of both protein and energy: it has about 40 percent protein and 20 percent vegetable oil by weight in its seeds (Boucher et al., 2011). It is fast growing and highly nutritious, producing more protein per hectare than any other major crop, and has a higher percentage of protein than many animal products: dried soybean contains 35.9g protein per 100g, compared to 34.2g for cheese and 21.1g for pork (RIVM, 2011).”

WWF, The Growth of Soy

It seems like the assertion that soy is “highly nutritious” is based solely on the metric of its protein content, because very little micronutrients – apart from 52% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin K, and a decent amount of fiber – are derived from soy. However, the bioavailabilty and quality of animal protein is far superior to that of soy. explains that, “plant-based proteins do not have a complete amino acid sequence like you would often find in animal-based protein. Eating a range of different plant-based proteins across the day will provide a complete amino acid profile in your diet…
…Athletes who undergo strenuous physical exercise need a surplus of protein to repair muscle tissue.5 Plant-based proteins have a lower leucine content (which stimulates protein synthesis and inhibits protein degradation); so if you are an athlete on a plant-based diet you should boost your protein intake to guarantee a safe muscle recovery.”

However, for those athletes among us, or even for those of us who enjoy a nice prolonged fast without losing muscle, not all protein is created equal. This was confirmed by a very eye-opening study publish in 2019 by French Université Clermont Auvergne into plant versus animal-based sources in supporting muscle mass:

“Food protein quality as assessed by digestibility, net protein utilization, and biological value has so far been better for animal-based protein sources like meat, eggs, milk and its constituents than for plant-based protein sources like raw cereals and legumes (Table 1).
…In older adults, the muscle protein synthesis rate was 30–40% lower following the consumption of a given quantity of soy or wheat protein hydrolysates than with whey protein isolate or micellar casein [42,44]. Gorissen et al. [44] confirmed the lower anabolic properties of plant-based proteins compared to milk proteins.

…Hartman et al. [28] assessed the impact of soy intake with resistance exercise on lean mass accretion in young men and showed that the consumption of a drink containing ≈17.5 g soy protein during a 12 week period of resistance exercise training resulted in a 28% lower gain in lean body mass than when exercise was followed by an isonitrogenous milk protein drink [28]. Volek et al. [37] also demonstrated that the lean body mass gain in young men was 45% lower after consumption of 20 g of soy protein isolate compared to whey protein concentrate during a 36 week period of resistance exercise training.

…At similar protein intakes, most studies have reported a lower ability of plant-based protein sources to stimulate protein synthesis at the skeletal muscle level and induce muscle mass gain compared to animal-based protein sources, especially in older people [28,37,40,42,44,75]. The lower anabolic effect of plant-based protein sources is partly due to their lower digestibility [103] and their lower essential amino acid content, especially leucine [51], compared to animal proteins.”

Université Clermont Auvergne, The Role of the Anabolic Properties of Plant- versus Animal-Based Protein Sources in Supporting Muscle Mass Maintenance

In addition to all these beneficial effects of animal products on protein synthesis, there are some amino acids that can only be found in animal products.

Medical News Today contends that, “certain sources of animal protein can contain high levels of heme iron and vitamin B-12, while some plant-based foods lack these nutrients. On the other hand, plant-specific nutrients, called phytonutrients, and some antioxidants are absent from sources of animal protein…”

The reason it says some plant-based foods lack vitamin B12 is because there are many food “products” on the market – and available to vegans – that have been fortified with B12, like enriched yeast extract, meat-substitutes (often soy-based), breakfast cereals and various other soy products. To be clear, it is only naturally-occurring in animal products (besides trace amounts in nori seaweed and shiitake mushrooms), and much more bioavailable to the body (more easily absorbed) than from fortified sources.

Phytonutrients” [chemicals]
In addition to the micronutrients that are only available from animal sources (b12, heme iron), and the higher digestibility of animal-derived versions of these macronutrients, like protein, we must take into consideration the “plant-specific” nutrients that animal products are – beneficially – devoid of.

Medical News Today refers to these compounds as “phytonutrients”. However, they are also commonly known as phytochemicals, which are a group of compounds designed to help plants resist fungus, bacteria and viral infection, as well as ward off animal, insect and human predators. The “phytochemical” category designation also encompasses compounds that have been deemed “essential nutrients” – a wiki search for “phytonutrients” redirects back to the phytochemical page.

The article on soy also contests that, “the different protein structure, along with anti-nutrient compounds, can actually decrease the protein our digestive system absorbs from the food.2” 

One of these compounds is oxalic acid, which is commonly occurring in plants, and higher concentrations are found in soy, in particular. Oxalic acid impedes the absorption of calcium in the body by binding the mineral.

In addition to soy intakes’ depression of absorption of protein and calcium, phytic acid, which is found in all plants, also impairs our bodies ability to synthesize micronutrients like calcium, iron and zinc. So, on top of being a lesser-quality iron (than heme), its uptake is actually inhibited by soy, which is one of the grains that contains the most phytic acid.

Soybeans also contain more isoflavone, a phytonutrient classified as a phytoestrogen (plant estrogen), than most other grains and plant varieties. Phytoestrogens mimic the female sex hormone estrogen in humans.

According to, “eating soy products is linked to increased breast tissue in women, hypothetically increasing the risk of breast cancer.”

What’s more, soy isoflavones can act as substrates for thyroid peroxidase, and potentially inhibit thyroid hormone production.[13]

Phytochemicals are not the only compounds contained in the plant that is wreaking havok on our endocrine system; the pesticides applied to conventionally-produced grains, including those used for animals feeds in industrial farming techniques, create a myriad of hormonal and digestive problems.

Pesticides in soy byproducts (meal, lecithin, oil) and inflammatory fatty acids in grain-fed animal products

“Few of us are aware of quite how much soy we eat. A typical beef burger, for example, can contain meat raised on soy meal, margarine containing soy, mayonnaise with soy lecithin and soy additives in the bread bun.”

WWF Soy Report

To produce the crop in mass, monocropping techniques that rely on a variety of pesticides are required.

Glyphosate, the main [chemical] ingredient in Monsanto’s widely-used RoundUp pesticide, has been shown to disrupt the gut microbiome and create “leaky gut” syndrome in humans, by increasing permeability of intestinal membrane, and opening and allowing pathogens, food allergens and inflammation to penetrate through normally tight intercellular junctions.

And according to a joint December 2019 study from The Institute of Marine Research and The University of Sussex,

[Glyphosate-tolerant (GT) soy] is the dominant genetically modified (GM) plant and trait combination on the global market. About 77% of the global soybean production comes from GT soybean, and the dominant soy producing countries of Brazil, USA and Argentina have a 94–100% adoption rate of ‘biotech crops’, mostly glyphosate tolerant varieties [1]. This development in agro-industrial technology has been reported to have contributed to increased gross farm incomes mainly by reducing production costs [2].

GT soybean agriculture is a ‘technological package’—a plant-and-herbicide-combination—which enables farmers to kill weeds by spraying herbicides during the growing season, except those weeds that have developed tolerance to glyphosate. The genetic modification makes the soy plants tolerate the herbicide. Commercially, the rapid growth in sales and use of glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) such as Roundup has been linked to the success of the glyphosate tolerant soybean seeds [3].

349 million metric tonnes (MT) of soy were produced in the 2016–2017 season [4], out of which GT varieties contributed about 270 million MT.

Institute of Marine Research, The Introduction of Thousands of Tonnes of Glyphosate in the food Chain—An Evaluation of Glyphosate Tolerant Soybeans

This works out to be over 75 percent of soybean crops that are glyphosate-tolerant.

When interviewed in Cowspiracy, former rancher Howard Lyman breaks it down:

“The fact of it is, that we could feed every human being on the planet today an adequate diet if we did no more than take the feed that we’re feeding to animals and actually turn it into food for humans. So, somebody trying to justify GMOs is like trying to give a drowning man drinking water.”

…The fact of it is, if you can grow corn to stuff it down the throat of an animal, you can actually grow corn and feed it to a human.”

Howard Lyman, former rancher

Pretty sure he meant organic when he said “GMOs”, which doesn’t exactly demonstrate he has the qualifications to be speaking on the matter. But let’s look past that. If this last paragraph isn’t a glowing endorsement for GM-human feed, I don’t know what is; I mean, who doesn’t want to eat crops that were initially grown to be “stuffed down the throat” of livestock animals…

I understand his point, but surely there is a more righteous pursuit to feed the hungry than employing methods that lead to environmental devastation, and contaminate crops with pesticides that lead to neurological disorders, autoimmune and cardiovascular diseases, and cancer.

Especially considering that, according to non-profit Common Dreams, we already have enough food to feed the entire world population. Starvation isn’t a matter of food unavailability, rather:

Hunger is caused by poverty and inequality, not scarcity. For the past two decades the rate of global food production has increased faster than the rate of global population growth. The world already produces more than 1 ½ times enough food to feed everyone on the planet. That’s enough to feed 10 billion people, the population peak we expect by 2050. But the people making less than $2 a day—most of whom are resource-poor farmers cultivating unviably small plots of land—can’t afford to buy this food.

Rodale, the longest-running side-by-side study comparing conventional chemical agriculture with organic methods (now 47 years) found organic yields match conventional in good years and outperform them under drought conditions and environmental distress—a critical property as climate change increasingly serves up extreme weather conditions. Moreover, agroecological practices (basically, farming like a diversified ecosystem) render a higher resistance to extreme climate events which translate into lower vulnerability and higher long-term farm sustainability.

Common Dreams, We Already Grow Enough Food for 10 Billion People… and Still Can’t End Hunger

As it turns out, there is scientific evidence to show the astounding pesticide content in GM soy, and lack of nutrients and increased omega-6 content of conventional soy in relation to organic:

Organic soybeans showed the healthiest nutritional profile with more sugars, such as glucose, fructose, sucrose and maltose, significantly more total protein, zinc and less fibre than both conventional and GM-soy. Organic soybeans also contained less total saturated fat and total omega-6 fatty acids than both conventional and GM-soy. GM-soy contained high residues of glyphosate and AMPA (mean 3.3 and 5.7 mg/kg, respectively). Conventional and organic soybean batches contained none of these agrochemicals. 

GenØk, Centre for Biosafety & UIT The Arctic University of Norway, Compositional differences in soybeans on the market

Beyond the link between Glyphosate and genetic engineering and it’s carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting effects, as I mentioned, it also leads to chronic inflammation.

Generalized inflammation is responsible for 95% of disease, primarily cancers, autoimmune disorders and infectious diseases. In fact, a 2012 study authored by Philip Hunter, and published in EMBO Reports demonstrated that,

Inflammation has long been a well-known symptom of many infectious diseases, but molecular and epidemiological research increasingly suggests that it is also intimately linked with a broad range of non-infectious diseases, perhaps even all of them.

…Rosana Risques, a specialist in inflammatory processes at the University of Washington in Seattle, USA, said that it is becoming clear that chronic inflammation is implicated at every level of tumorigenesis.

…Indeed, a study from the Istituto Clinico Humanitas in Milan, Italy, suggests that an inflammatory microenvironment is essential for all cancers [3], although the causal mechanisms have yet to be established.

Philip Hunter, The inflammation theory of disease

Soybeans, especially of the conventional and GM varieties, are very high in omega-6 fatty acids, which alone have been shown to cause inflammation. Soybean oil is a main ingredient in a host of processed and packaged foods, including salad dressings, margarine, bread and all sorts of baked sweets and fried foods.

Soybean oil is further processed using the chemical hexane (classified as a neurotoxin by the CDC and found in spray adhesives, contact cement, paints and stain removers) to create soy lecithin, an emulsifier and stabilizer, which is in most packaged food products to increase shelf life. No exaggeration, just take a look at the ingredients list of some of the foods in your pantry and let me know what you find. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that over half of them contain soy lecithin.

To its credit, plant-based meat substitute company Beyond Meat has opted to use sunflower lecithin and expeller-pressed canola oil in its products over soy, which don’t require the harsh chemicals that soy does in order to process, and sunflower lecithin is generally less genetically-engineered. However, sunflower oil products are 65-75% omega 6 polyunsaturated fats, and contain very low levels of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids in sunflower oil, which help to counteract the inflammatory effects of omega-6s. From

Certain vegetable oils, such as soybean oil, promote inflammation due to their very high omega-6 fatty acid content.

Although some dietary omega-6 fats are necessary, the typical Western diet provides far more than people need.

In fact, health professionals recommend eating more omega-3-rich foods, such as fatty fish, to improve your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio and reap the anti-inflammatory benefits of omega-3s.

In one study, rats fed a diet with an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 20:1 had much higher levels of inflammatory markers than those fed diets with ratios of 1:1 or 5:1.

I can’t similarly commend Impossible Foods though, as the ingredients list for its products are riddled with processed soy, conventional (hexane-containing) canola oil, yeast extract (MSG) and “natural flavors“, as well as providing an Impossible Whopper-ing (sorry, couldn’t resist) 40% DV of saturated fat per serving…

In his book, Meatonomics, author David Robinson Simon claims that,

Simply put, our heavy consumption of foods high in cholesterol, saturated fat, and other substances linked primarily or uniquely to animal foods has helped make us one of the sickest developed nations on the planet.

David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics

I would love to hear an explanation from Robinson Simon – or really anyone for that matter – of how a meat substitute burger containing as much, if not more, saturated fat than a beef patty is superior at preventing heart disease…

He also asserts that the reason meat and animal product prices can remain so low is due to the external costs associated being transferred to the taxpayer, rather than being retained by the producers, primarily in the form of healthcare and environmental costs. Because of this, he claims, we, the consumers, are not really saving money because we are paying the externalized costs in other ways.

“Of course, mass producing just about any food generates external costs, and fruits and vegetables are no exception. Thus, growing crops for people imposes the same external costs on the environment that growing feed crops does, such as those arising from the use of pesticides and fertilizers. However, the external costs of growing fruit and vegetables are miniscule compared to those of producing animal food. Plant-based foods, for example, generate virtually none of the healthcare costs and far less environmental costs that animal foods do.”

David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics

I would beg to differ. As I’ve already explained, the use of Glyphosate and other pesticides has been linked to a wide variety of neurological and autoimmune disorders and cancer, including multiple sclerosis, and Crohn’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, all of which generate external healthcare costs for the general public. However, industrial-farmed livestock production also generates these external costs, but it is largely by way of the conventional, genetically engineered grains they are fed, which are ultimately transferred to the consumer, as well as the antibiotics and growth hormones they are injected with to prevent the disease from the rancid and fecal matter-containing crops they are being fed.

Robinson Simon himself contests, “in fact, the same gains in efficiency that reduce prices also increase externalized costs. Chickens develop faster in part because they’re fed growth-promoting antibiotics, but those drugs cause costly antibiotic resistance when they end up in our food and waterways, making it much harder for us to fight off a slew of sicknesses–and leading to more time in the doctor’s office.”

External Costs of Industrial-Farmed Animals and Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)

“We all do incur the costs of animal food production in one way or another. For example, even if you’re lucky enough to never develop cancer, diabetes, or heart disease, you’ll still help finance the treatment of those who do (unfortunately, many cases of these three diseases are attributable to consumption of meat, fish, eggs and dairy.)”

David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics

In actuality, they are just as attributable, if not more, to highly-processed and sodium-heavy packaged foods, many of which are “plant-based” –

An analysis of nationally representative health surveys and disease specific mortality statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics in the United States showed that the dietary risk factors associated with the greatest mortality among American adults in 2005 were high dietary trans fatty acids, low dietary omega-3 fatty acids, and high dietary salt145. In addition, a recent systematic analysis of dietary data from 195 different countries identified poor diet as the main risk factor for death in 2017, with excessive sodium intake being responsible for more than half of diet-related deaths146.

Finally, when combined with low physical activity, consuming hyperpalatable processed foods that are high in fat, sugar, salt and flavor additives147 can cause major changes in cell metabolism and lead to the increased production (and defective disposal) of dysfunctional organelles such as mitochondria, as well as to misplaced, misfolded and oxidized endogenous molecules30,60,148

Nature Medicine, Chronic inflammation in the etiology of disease across the life span, Dec. 2019

Beyond their saturated fat content, packaged, plant-based meat substitute products from Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods contain 350-500 mg of sodium per serving on average, which is between 15-22% of the recommended daily intake (Not to mention, they are significantly lower in (less bioavailable) protein than a beef patty, and contain no selenium). If sodium intake is such a prevalent factor in mortality from diet, I would think it should be a larger consideration for the plant-based advocates.

Robinson Simon is not the only entity to claim that a diet high in animal products decreases heart health and leads to CVD.

Medical News Today suggests that, “animal products contain saturated fat and higher levels of cholesterol than sources of plant protein. A person may wish to avoid animal products for these reasons. Many used to believe that dietary cholesterol was associated with cardiovascular disease. While recent evidence suggests no significant link, trusted source the Institute of Medicine (IOM) still recommends limiting dietary cholesterol.

This last statement – that no significant link exists between cholesterol and CVD – is consistent with a study published in the Cambridge University Press, looking at fat from dairy foods and ‘meat’ consumed, and its association with serum cholesterol levels:

Pal et al. reported a 7 % reduction in both total chloesterol (TC) and LDL-C compared with baseline after a 12-week intervention using 54 g/d of whey supplements in eighty-nine overweight and obese individuals.

…In addition, the purported anti-inflammatory properties of some constituents of dairy foods, especially fermented dairy produce, may also help to reduce CVD risk.

…A favourable association between consumption of fat from the ‘meat’ food group and serum HDL-C levels was observed. Despite the varying types of foods in this food group, similar responses to serum cholesterol levels have been observed with consumption of red or white meat.

For example, Maki et al., in their meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials investigating changes to serum cholesterol levels in response to beef (‘red’ meat) compared with poultry/fish (‘white’ meat) consumption, detected no differences to serum TC, LDL-C or HDL-C levels between the ‘red’ and ‘white’ meat types. Others have confirmed this observation. However, a more favorable increase in serum HDL-C levels has been observed when fatty fish (e.g. cod and salmon) is consumed compared with lean fish and chicken, probably due to their fatty acid profile.

Cardioprotective qualities have been reported with the consumption of n-3 fatty acids found in fish. Howe et al. reported that, in addition to fish and seafood, meat (red meat, poultry and game) is also a major source of n-3 fatty acids (contributing to 48 and 43% of daily n-3 fatty acid intake, respectively). Therefore, any deleterious effect of saturated fats in meat may be offset by its n-3 fatty acid content.

…Previous dietary recommendations suggested that egg consumption be limited because of the high cholesterol content of eggs; however, recent evidence demonstrated increases in serum HDL-C as well as LDL-C with egg consumption. Moreover, eggs are also a rich source of xanthophyll carotenoids, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory activities(,4345).

The number of servings of foods from the ‘meat’ food group consumed by residents was within the recommended guidelines of 2–2·5 servings daily, so within recommended levels these foods had a positive effect on serum HDL-C levels.”

Cambridge University’s Journal of Nutritional Science

This last consideration is a powerful one. “Recommended levels” is a term that is
by-and-large a foreign concept to the American consumer when it comes to diet.

In the study, “one serving of ‘meat’ equalled 65 g of cooked meat, 80 g of cooked chicken, 100 g of canned fish, or two eggs. One serving of dairy food equated to 250 ml fresh or reconstituted powdered milk, 120 ml evaporated milk, 40 g hard cheese, 120 g ricotta cheese, or 200 g yoghurt.”

In Cowspiracy, when interviewing best-selling author Michael Pollan, the director leads with the question, “as the world population continues to grow to almost 9 billion people (though we have yet to reach 8 billion), do you forsee that someday we might just have to stop eating meat altogether?”

Polland’s response is that, “there’s no way to support 9 oz per person, per day, which is what Americans are eating now. If the Chinese decide they want to eat that much, and they’ve decided that they want to eat that much, we don’t have enough world to produce the grain to generate that much meat.”

As Andersen notes in the film, “humans [alone] drink 5.2 billion gallons of water and eat 21 billion lbs of ‘food’ per day. 70 billion farm animals are raised for livestock annually; cows alone consume 45 billion gallons of water, and 135 billion lbs of food per day.”

I give Kip Andersen credit for straying away from the population growth debate and inferring that, rather, “this isn’t so much a human population issue, it’s a human-eating-animals population issue.”

But in reality, I view it as a human portion size and food and animal-feed production-quality issue –

“If we would reduce the amount of meat we’re eating, and dairy and eggs, we could allow all these mono-cropped fields of genetically-engineered corn and soybeans to revert back to forests again, and be habitat for animals.”

Dr. Will Tuttle, Environmental and Ethics Author, Cowspiracy

In theory, that sounds like a stellar idea. But it’s not just about reducing our meat consumption. It’s our reliance on industrial-farmed grains in general. If we stop eating so much meat, our hunger isn’t going to just disappear…

Likely, the farmland currently allocated for livestock feed will become farmland for “human feed,” as suggested by Howard Lyman in Cowspiracy. And a plant-based diet that relies on conventionally-grown, GE grains and highly-processed foods containing plant protein also leads to landscape simplification, not a reversion to forests and pastures habitable for animals. Take it from the Union of Concerned Scientists:

The land itself feels the consequences of consolidation: growth in farm size is associated with landscape simplification, in which large-scale monocultures replace natural vegetation and more fertilizers and pesticides are required, degrading soil health and increasing vulnerability to erosion and climate impacts. Because more farmland in larger farms tends to be rented rather than owned, there is less incentive to invest in measures to improve farmland for the long term by building soil health.

Union of Concerned Scientists, Bigger Farms, Bigger Problems

Because they have no horse in the race, so to speak, these farming corporations that rent land are not incentivized to preserve the farmland, nor the ecosystem, as the owner of a small or mid-sized locally-owned farm would.

It’s a slippery slope-continuum: environmental destruction results in diminished soil health, which gives way to the need for chemical fertilizer, leading to malnourished, nutrient-deficient plants, susceptible to insect and pest infestation. This creates the need for pesticides, which results in environmental destruction, completing the viscous cycle.

Chemical Farming & The Loss of Human Health – Dr. Zach Bush

Chemical drugs are needed to keep these weak, nutrient-deficient plants alive because of their failing biological makeup. Essentially, all the beneficial enzymes in soil, plants, bacteria and fungi that ward off pests are being blocked by Glyphosate, which is applied to the soil of the earth in the form of the pesticide Roundup at the rate of 4.5 billion pounds annually. This mechanism is why Glyphosate has been patented first as an antibiotic, then an antiparasite and an antifungal, but never really as a weed killer.

Ironically, much like how this cycle operates, human illness treated with antibiotics disrupt the uptake of amino acids by enzyme receptors, and lead to symptoms that must be treated with more drugs.

I understand the larger ecological footprint associated with raising industrial-produced livestock over industrial-produced plants for humans, but what is the difference in outcome when these grains are cultivated as food for humans, rather than animals? Either way, we are degrading soil health and paving the way for changes in climate, while subjecting ourselves to the same chemicals and pesticides we have been feeding ourselves, by way of our factory-farmed livestock. Only this time, we are directly ingesting them.

While it is rarely acknowledged, half the food in the world is produced by 1.5 billion farmers working small plots for which monocultures of any kind are unsustainable. Non-commercial poly-cultures are better for balancing diets and reducing risk, and can thrive without agrochemicals. Agroecological methods that emphasize rich crop diversity in time and space conserve soils and water and have proven to produce the most rapid, recognizable and sustainable results. In areas in which soils have already been degraded by conventional agriculture’s chemical “packages”, agroecological methods can increase productivity by 100-300%.

Common Dreams, We Already Grow Enough Food for 10 Billion People… and Still Can’t End Hunger

By reverting back to backyard, small and mid-sized organic farming techniques practiced in natural habitats, we can nip this vicious cycle of environmental and human microbiome destruction in the bud, and end the sterilization and nutrient-depletion of the world’s soil.

Farmland Allocation for Soy, Corn and Wheat vs. for Grazing Grass-fed Beef

In Cowspiracy, the documentarian estimates that, based on the metrics of one farm he visits, feeding every American the average yearly consumption of beef (209 lbs) using solely grass-fed cattle, would require 3.7 billion acres of farmland for grazing, while there are only 1.9 billion acres in the lower 48 states. And again, this is only taking into consideration the US population.

However, he arrived at this figure using the metrics of one sole farm he visits while making the documentary. The management claims that, roughly 10 acres are allocated to each cow or cow/calf combo. This estimate comes in much higher than the recommendations of organizations like The USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, Open Sanctuary and Small Farm Nation, which vary from .5 to 2 acres per cow, and “4% of their weight in forage each day”, according to the USDA and Farm Sanctuary.

So then, even erring on the generous side, 2 acres per cow, the number comes in at about one fifth of the benchmark number used by the filmmaker.

Additionally, the 209 lbs of beef eaten by the average American annually is much higher than the 137 lbs recommended by Mayo Clinic for total annual meat, poultry and fish consumption. I came up with this number by multiplying the six 1-oz servings recommended by 365 and then dividing by 16 to convert to pounds.

If we were to shift focus to the high-quality protein of grass-fed or pasture-raised animals, and temper our consumption of “lean meats, poultry and fish” to the Mayo Clinic-recommended intake of six 1-oz servings or fewer a day, and 2-3 servings of dairy (for a 2,000 calorie diet), we could dramatically reduce the amount of farmland required for production of conventional grains needed for animal feed.

According to the Cambridge University animal fat study, “Whey proteins have been shown to increase postprandial plasma amino acid levels and slow gastric emptying, leading to increased satiety(,34).”

Furthermore, when it comes to organic in particular, a little goes a long way. Pasture-raised or grass-fed animal proteins whey (milk protein) can provide the same satiety with an even smaller portion, especially when the body becomes fat-adapted.


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