Scared of the flu? Stop eating meat.

by: Janice Leung Hayes
17 Jan 2019

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Ever noticed that the flu bug seems to be getting deadlier with each passing year? You’d think that there’s nothing you can do about it, that it’s just nature getting tougher on us, but that's not true —– you can fix it simply by choosing to eat less meat.

This is how it works: concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), or industrial factory farms, which produce over 80% of the meat we eat today, have to pack in a lot of animals in a limited space in order to maximise land use. But animals cooped up in a small space are going to get sick more easily. In CAFOs, a low dose of antibiotics is given to all animals to prevent them from getting sick (it also fattens them up more quickly). Two-thirds of the world's antibiotics are used on factory farms. By eating meat from factory farms, we're in fact ingesting a constant flow of antibiotics, so bacteria, like the flu, continuously evolve to become stronger to resist many forms of antibiotics — this means we could die from "common" ailments such as infections and flus. As early as 2016, the UN has warned us about this antibiotic resistance "crisis".

With, population growth showing no signs of slowing down, you might argue that CAFOs are necessary to feed the world, but scientists are now coming up with novel solutions that don't require animals to be raised in such situations. Some of these solutions don't require animals at all.

Enter plant-based "meat". Food technologists have developed meat substitutes that are made entirely from plants, that taste, feel and cook like animal meat.

Why plants? Plants can feed the world using much less input than meat. Up to 80% of the world's arable land is being used for crops to feed and raise animals on factory farms. It takes 15000 gallons of water to produce each kilogram of beef; most of that water being used to irrigate monoculture crops of grain to feed animals like cows. Instead, this water and land could be used for crops going straight into plant-based foods.​
The overuse of antibiotics and the inefficient use of resources are just part of the problem. CAFOs have been known to produce excessive amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas, no thanks to the manure lagoons used to deal with sewerage, and cow farts (yes!) that occur after eating too much grain, an unnatural feed for cattle. Add to that overcrowding, removing calves from their mothers, and animals eating unchecked carcasses, and you have a full gamut of environmental, public health and ethical concerns that arise from factory farming. With the simple act of switching to a plant-based diet, or at the very least, cutting down on factory farmed meat, we'd be working towards a more sustainable future, and treatable bacteria come flu season.

Janice Leung Hayes