According to the research – carried out by the British Heart Foundation health promotion research group at Oxford University for the Friends of the Earth report Healthy Planet Eating – eating meat no more than two or three times a week would avert 31,000 premature deaths through heart disease, 9,000 from cancer and 5,000 through stroke.
“This research demonstrates the clear health benefits of cutting down on meat and dairy in the UK and quantifies this more comprehensively than ever before,” said Dr Mike Rayner of Oxford University’s department of public health.
As well as relieving environmental impact of meat and livestock production, tackling the root cause of many of these deaths – a meat-rich diet – would save the NHS £1.2 billion.
“We don’t need to go vegetarian to look after ourselves and our planet, but we do need to cut down on meat,” said FoE’s director of policy and campaigns, Craig Bennett. “While the government has ignored the environmental aspect of high meat and dairy consumption, it can’t ignore the lives that would be saved by switching to less and better meat.”
The findings suggests that campaigns such as Meat Free Monday are carrying out a public health duty in promoting a reduced-meat diets.
FoE is now encouraging everyone to cut their weekly consumption to 210g a week. The average is currently between 490g and 700g per week.
“These figures add weight to what we have been saying about red and processed meat – that there is convincing evidence they increase the risk of developing bowel cancer, the third most common cancer in the UK,” said Rachel Thompson, deputy head of science at the World Cancer Research Fund. “[We} recommend eating no more than 500g of cooked red meat per week and to avoid eating processed meat – such as bacon, ham and salami.”
Globally, we are eating four times as much meat as we did in 1961, a result of growing populations, rising affluence and the development of factory farming.