Home Opinion Featured Articles Have you ever wondered how you will die?

Have you ever wondered how you will die?

what people die from
what people die from

Statistically, your most likely killers are heart disease, cancer, and infectious diseases, with 65% of the world dying from one of these.

You might be surprised to learn that a single root cause contributes to all of these killers: the way we eat. The systematic abuse of billions of farmed animals poses grave threats to human life.

For example, if the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted you physically or economically, you should be even more concerned about future pandemics arising from industrial animal agriculture.

This year’s avian flu outbreaks are a sign of what is to come. As tens of millions of birds and dozens of mammal species are infected, worries have grown that the virus could spread to humans. Gain-of-function virology research has demonstrated that mutations enabling mammal-to-mammal transmission are possible. When humans have contracted avian flu directly from birds in the past, observed mortality rates have been as high as 60%, making it far more lethal than COVID-19.

It is only a matter of time before some new and deadlier zoonotic pathogen emerges. Bangladesh has had to contend with many zoonotic diseases in the past, from Nipah virus to pandemic H1N1 to COVID-19.

By 2050, the UN projects that antibiotic-resistant “super bugs” will kill 10 million people annually. Antibiotic resistance has grown over time due to overuse and misuse, and the rapid growth of human and animal populations over the past 80 years has accelerated the trend.

Risks from infectious diseases are intrinsically linked to the horrifying animal abuses that take place on farms worldwide. Human interactions with farmed animals on cramped and unsanitary factory farms lubricate disease transmission. Worse, the intense stress experienced by livestock weakens their immune systems. The result is dangerous mutations that allow pathogens to defeat our most reliable medications.

Huge quantities of antibiotics are used in an attempt to reduce premature livestock deaths in these cruel farming conditions. Over 70% of antibiotic sales globally go towards farmed animals rather than humans.

The cruelty that contributes to these problems is not limited to meat production. All farmed animals, including dairy cows and egg-laying chickens, are commonly kept in brutal conditions and eventually killed. Egg-laying hens spend their lives in small, dark cages and have their beaks chopped off without anesthetic. Dairy cows, who are known to form close maternal bonds with their young, are forcibly inseminated and then separated from their offspring in order to increase milk production. They are kept in cramped conditions where disease is rampant and veterinary care is minimal.

Fortunately, there is a simple solution to these challenges: eating plants.

It can be hard to imagine what life would look like without meat, dairy and eggs on the dinner table. What will everyone eat? Where will they get crucial nutrients like protein, iron, and vitamin B12?

Protein can be accessed from a variety of plants including beans, nuts, soy, and lentils. Cruciferous vegetables are rich in iron. Vitamin B12 is often added to plant-based milks and meats, and can also be accessed through dietary supplements.

Plant-based diets have been endorsed by the world’s most prominent nutrition authorities, including the American Dietetic Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. These endorsements apply to all stages of life, from pregnancy to adulthood, and also apply to athletes. There is a wealth of information available from organizations like the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine on how to thrive on a plant-based diet.

It’s important to remember that eating animal products is not as “natural” as many would like to think. Humans do not drink breast milk past their earliest years, so it is hard to claim that drinking the breast milk of other species during adulthood is “natural” by any sense of the word. It is certainly not natural for the 68% of humans who are lactose intolerant. Perhaps this is our bodies’ way of saying that we do not need to consume milk as adults.

Many thinkers across history have recognized the value of eating plants: from the Pythagoreans to Jainism to Sufism, compassionate thinkers have been taking animal welfare into consideration when making dietary choices for thousands of years.

In fact, there is abundant evidence that plant-based eating significantly improves your long-term health. Animal consumption is a major cause of top killers like heart disease and cancer. In fact, all of the world’s major cancer authorities, from the World Health Organization to the American Institute for Cancer Research, have recognized that red and processed meats cause cancer. Cancer Research UK has said that “the less processed and red meat you eat, the lower your risk.” It is no wonder that the world’s longest-living populations practice plant-based eating.

Feeding 10 Billion

While many people’s health is threatened by eating the wrong kinds of food, others face a more fundamental challenge: access to any food whatsoever. Today, over 800 million people go hungry, with over 40 million going hungry in Bangladesh alone.

Does that mean we need to raise more animals to feed the word? In fact, the exact opposite is true!

As energy travels up a food chain from plant to herbivore to carnivore, 90% of the energy is lost at each trophic level. In other words, when we feed crops to cows for consumption by humans, far more energy and resources are wasted than if we fed the crops to humans directly.

This is why the ¾ of global farmland that goes to animal agriculture produces only 18% of the world’s calories. If the world transitions to plant-based agriculture, we could produce the same amount of food using ¼ as much land. This kind of efficiency gain could literally allow us to decrease our land use even while doubling the global human population!

Improving our land use efficiency would not only help mitigate the public health problems caused by malnutrition and hunger, but would also reduce pressure on our water supplies and countless other resources that play important roles in human health. This is because each acre of crops requires water, fertilizer, farming equipment, and energy. Our reliance on all of these resources is reduced when we reduce our land use.

Anyone who cares about global hunger, access to water, and human health should be staunchly in favor of a global food system transformation towards plant-based eating.

Want to protect your children and grandchildren from these pressing issues?

Change starts on your plate: ditching animal products is an important way to contribute to a healthier, safer, and kinder world. You can also educate yourself on the impacts of animal agriculture and speak up to educate others.

But there is much more that scientists and policymakers can do. Anyone with a technical background can look into getting involved with alternative proteins research, developing meat alternatives that look and taste like the real thing. Governments should create financial incentives for sustainable food initiatives while rolling back subsidies on destructive products like meat and dairy. If you have money to spare, you can also financially support crucial advocacy work being done to preserve our world for future generations.

Everyone has something to contribute, and if we’re up to the task, our grandchildren will thank us.

Authors: Dr. Faraz Harsini, Benny Smith, Daraius Dubash

Blurb: The authors are affiliated with Allied Scholars for Animal Protection, a distinguished US non-profit organization dedicated to addressing the detrimental impacts of animal consumption on human health and the environment.

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