Red meat production is completely misunderstood and being unfairly targeted as a scapegoat for understandable concerns about health and climate change, according to an internationally renowned dietician, author and film director.

“My approach is ‘what is the optimal diet for humans and how can we grow it in a sustainable way?’” Diana Rodgers RD, a nutritionist and sustainability advocate who is based near Boston, Massachusetts, told delegates to Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales’ (HCC) annual conference.

Red meat is completely misunderstood and being unfairly being targeted as a scapegoat for our concerns about health and our worries about climate change; it’s much easier to pin our worries on something as powerful and polarising as red meat rather than tackling the world’s complex problems and tackling them in a cleverer and more nuanced way.

Diana Rodgers presents the Sustainable Dish Podcast, is an author of three books, runs a clinical nutrition practice and has served in an advisory role with numerous nutrition and agriculture organizations.

Her new initiative, the Global Food Justice Alliance, advocates for a nutritious, sustainable and equitable worldwide food system.

“There is bundled-up propaganda out there that says that meat causes cancer, heart disease, diabetes; that it’s bad for the environment; it’s unnecessary – why eat meat when we can just engineer proteins in labs? – and it is unethical; that those who are ‘more enlightened’ have moved beyond meat eating.”

Propaganda is ‘damaging and wrong’

She told HCC’s conference attendees, at Builth Wells, that this propaganda was not only incredibly damaging – but wrong.

There is no research that has shown a direct cause between red meat and disease; meat is the best source of iron and B12, the most common nutrient deficiencies worldwide. B12 is not available in plant-sourced foods and red meat’s iron is in the wrong form in plants.

“Most importantly, the vegan diet is simply a privilege that many don’t have.”

“Let’s look at the environmental case for meat. You can see that raising cattle on grass in general doesn’t require chemicals, increases soil microbial life and rainfall absorption, promotes a cooler ground temperature, better wildlife habitat.

“Fewer inputs – that’s chemicals and fertilisers – are required.

“Look at the price of the plant based meat alternatives; it’s almost twice as expensive per pound to buy the substitutes.

“It’s an extractive system where intense chemicals are needed and leave behind a bare, hard, dead soil with increased rainfall runoff and a hotter ground temperature.

“There is less wildlife habitat, more external inputs are required and you have a less nutritious product within an unhealthy ecosystem.”

Artificial meat

Diana Rodgers said that artificial “meat produced in a lab has absolutely nothing ecologically healthy about it at all”.

“It takes large amounts of chemically grown monocrop, whether it’s wheat corn or soy, to process with a lot of energy to keep the temperatures regulated. It’s just not economically feasible and makes no sense from an energy perspective.”

“In addition, livestock used land that was not suitable for other purposes.

Remember, most of the agricultural land around the world is not land that we can crop.

“Taking animals off the land doesn’t mean we can free up more land for plants or other purposes,” she said.