How Environmental Pollutants Make Eating Meat More Risky

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Red meat gets a bad rap as being bad for your health – but how much of these health concerns are actually caused by environmental pollutants? This study reports that how the animal is raised may make all the difference…

You’ve probably heard lots of people say that eating meat is bad for your health, and it’s better to go vegetarian – both for the health of the environment and yourself. But what many studies don’t take into account when evaluating this topic is the environmental factors that can dramatically influence what’s actually in your meat. Not only does large-scale conventional farming heavily pollute the environment, it also pollutes the animals we’re eating…

A study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) last fall made headlines by announcing their findings that consumption of processed meats increased risk of cancer.

However, as a later study published in Environmental Research pointed out, the IARC “made no reference to environmental pollutants that were already known to be present in raw or unprocessed meat,” such as “polychlorinated naphthalenes, toxic trace elements, and perfluoroalkylated substances (PFAs), among others.”

How does your raw meat get polluted? It all goes back to how it was raised…

Although it is demonstrated that meat and meat products have a major nutritional value because of their contribution of protein, amino acids, vitamin B12 and iron, their daily consumption also leads to exposure to toxic substances that reach us through the diet consumed by the animals, based on feed, forage or grass. “The water drunk and the air breathed by livestock may be minor pathways of contamination to humans through the consumption of meat,” says said José Luis Domingo, lead author of the work with Martí Nadal, researchers in the laboratory of Toxicology and Environmental Health at the URV.

“The risks to consumer health are related to micropollutants -generated by human activity through breeding or veterinary treatments- or toxins induced by the processing itself,” the authors emphasize in the study.

The potential environmental toxins include inorganic elements such as arsenic, cadmium, mercury, lead, PAHs, PFAs, dioxins, pesticides and other persistent organic pollutants (POPs), such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), industrial chemicals which are viewed as one of the twelve most harmful pollutants produced by humans, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.


To check how cooking processes affect the presence of pollutants in meat, the researchers analysed in the laboratory the effects of frying, grilling, roasting or boiling on the concentration of various environmental, organic and inorganic pollutants present in beef steaks, pork loin, chicken breast and drumstick -which contains fewer organic pollutants than red meat-, and lamb steak and chops.

The results show that different types of cooking influence the concentration of toxins differently depending on the meat product. For example, POPs hardly undergo any changes between cooked and raw meat….

Reducing the level of pollution

The authors of the study recommend reducing the daily intake of fat from meat: “This would prevent not only cardiovascular risks, but also carcinogens, especially those associated with exposure to some environmental pollutants in the meat” they recommend.

But the concentrations of hazardous substances depend not only on the way food is prepared, “but even more so on the original content of toxins in the food itself before cooking,” says the URV researcher. In fact, not all meat is equally contaminated from the source.

“It depends on precisely where and how the animals have been reared. Clean air and pastures can give meat with very low levels of environmental pollutants,” they say.


Just one more reason to choose responsibly raised grass-fed meats; not only are they better for the environment, but they’re also better for you!

Read more about the study at ScienceDaily.com


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