TUESDAY, May 11, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Steaks and burgers could kill thousands of Americans each year, but in a way most people wouldn’t expect, through air pollution.
This is the conclusion of a new study that estimates that airborne particles generated by food production kill about 16,000 Americans each year. Contamination related to animal products (especially beef) accounts for 80% of these deaths.
“What we eat affects not only our own health, but the health of others,” said researcher Jason Hill, a professor of bioproduct and biosystems engineering at the University of Minnesota at St. Louis. Paul.
Agriculture generates pollutants in many ways, but Hill’s team focused specifically on its role in fine particulate pollution: small airborne substances that can be inhaled deeply. lungs.
This can be especially dangerous for existing people color or lung disease, and the World Health Organization says that exposure to dirty air kills approximately 7 million people worldwide each year.
Agricultural activities such as plowing fields, fertilizing crops and scattering and storing manure help to generate pollution by fine particles.
The cultivation of plant foods creates some contaminants, but not at the level of animal products. Not only are the cattle themselves, think manure, but the crops grown to feed them, Hill said.
Livestock farming requires the greatest amount of resources and produces the greatest pollution.
Consequently, according to the study, air pollution related to red meat production caused the greatest harm: per serving, its impact on deaths was seven times greater than poultry, ten times greater than that of nuts and seeds and at least 15 times higher than that of other food plants.
“Red meat has such a big impact that reducing our intake could only make a big difference,” Hill said.
Gidon Eshel, a researcher who is not involved in the study, agreed.
Beef production “has, by far, the most environmental and health consequences,” said Eshel, a research professor at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.
Agriculture is known to contribute to air pollution, Eshel said, and air pollution contributes to death.
But the new findings, he said, show “clearly and numerically” how the country’s collective diet contributes to the death of the population.
The study – published May 10 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – It was funded in part by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
It relied on EPA emissions data to assess the impact of different agricultural activities on air quality in U.S. counties. The researchers used statistical models to estimate the effects of fine particulate pollution, from various agricultural sources, on annual deaths across the country.
The verdict: Agriculture generates enough dirty air to kill about 18,000 Americans each year. Specifically, ammonia from livestock waste and fertilizers was one of the main culprits, the researchers said.
Of these deaths, the vast majority (nearly 16,000) were related to the production of food, mainly meat, poultry, and dairy products.
To have a more positive outlook, Hill’s team also estimated the impact of potential solutions.
They found that certain agricultural measures, such as improving fertilizer application, could prevent some deaths.
But changes in the American diet would reap much greater benefits: if veganism and the vegetarianism investigated the nation, most of the deaths described could have been avoided.
However, Hill stressed, “you don’t have to be an absolutist.”
His team projected that “flexitarian” feeding would also prevent a large number of deaths. This refers to diets based primarily on plants, but which allow some animal products in moderation.
Given the big effects of red meat, Hill noted that even declaring “meatless Monday” could make a difference.
But there would be detrimental health effects fleeing animals protein?
Eshel said “there is not a bit of evidence” indicating that people need animal protein to stay healthy, but a “mountain of evidence” that backs up the benefits of plant-based diets.
In a 2019 study, Eshel estimated that if all Americans exchanged meat for plant alternatives, it would cause great harm in greenhouse gas emissions and in the use of farmland and nitrogen fertilizers.
And with sources like soy and buckwheat providing protein, according to the study, there would also be no shortage of nutrients.
But Eshel also acknowledged that national adoption of veganism is unlikely. He said “eliminating” beef and replacing it with healthy plant foods would be a good step in itself.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has advice on this build healthy vegetarian diets.
SOURCES: Jason Hill, PhD, Professor, Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, University of Minnesota, St. Paul; Gidon Eshel, PhD, Professor of Research, Environmental and Urban Studies, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online, May 10, 2021