Once you start paying attention, you just can't avoid the bad news about meat consumption. From Reuters comes the news that "Women who received the most calories from animal protein had twice the risk of [endometrial cancer] compared to those who took in the fewest calories from animal sources."
And then I read this morning in Chemical & Engineering News (O.K., so I don't subscribe; a friend forwarded it to me) some truly scary news about eating chickens: About 70 percent of chickens in the U.S. are fed arsenic (to promote growth, stave off disease, etc.), a practice banned in the EU; that's right--arsenic!? As in, poison. As in that wonderful play, "Arsenic and Old Lace," about the clever old gals who use it to kill their gentlemen callers!
Arsenic & Young Chickens
In fact, according to the piece, the average U.S. chicken has about 390 parts per billion of arsenic, "which is three to four times greater than arsenic levels in other types of poultry and meat from other animals."
I need to just quote from the story directly about the possible impact of this:
"According to the Environmental Protection Agency, long-term exposure to inorganic arsenic can cause bladder, lung, skin, kidney, and colon cancer, as well as deleterious immunological, neurological, and endocrine effects. Low-level exposures can lead to partial paralysis and diabetes...
"Even though the drinking water standard for arsenic has been strengthened, the standards for arsenic residues in poultry-2,000 ppb for liver and 500 ppb for muscle-have remained unchanged for decades. Furthermore, neither the Food & Drug Administration nor the Department of Agriculture has actually measured the level of arsenic in the poultry meat that most people consume..."
But actually, it's not just the poison that's being fed to chickens and concentrating in their flesh that is causing meat-eaters to get sick. No, apparently the real problem with chicken and other meats isn't some scary additive--it's actually the animal protein itself, which both causes and fuels cancer cells, and which will exist in chicken meat even if the U.S. poultry industry stops feeding animals arsenic (though it sure sounds like the chicken industry has no interest in stopping; they feed 2.2. million pounds of arsenic to chickens right now).
The "China Project"
Indeed, I think that the most compelling evidence against eating animal products comes from China, and shows that the carcinogenic nutrient in meat is protein, rather than fat. In one of my favorite books on the subject of health, The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health, author T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., a Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, explains that animal protein is the most carcinogenic substance we consume ( even worse than the arsenic in chicken) and presents powerful data showing that animal products both cause and fuel cancer and other deadly diseases.
Dr. Campbell's study is the most comprehensive survey of the connection between diet and disease in medical history, and he has looked at all of the clinical, epidemiological, and other evidence, and it all backs up what he documented in China. His final statement on what we should all be eating?
Here's how he explains it in "Why China Holds the Key to Your Health": "The data from the China Project suggest that what we have come to consider as 'normal' illnesses of aging are really not normal. In fact, these findings indicate that the vast majority perhaps 80 to 90% of all cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and other forms of degenerative illness can be prevented, at least until very old age, simply by adopting a plant-based diet."
These are strong words from a man who was raised on a dairy farm, got his Ph.D. in animal nutrition, and worked on a project to produce animal protein more efficiently.
The Deadly Connection Between Animal Protein, Blood Cholesterol, and Carcinogens:
Dr. Campbell now believes it best to avoid animal protein altogether. According to Campbell, blood cholesterol levels can be reduced by eating plant protein instead. "Some of the plant proteins, particularly soy," he says, "have an impressive ability to reduce blood cholesterol." This might explain a finding released a few months back that "eating tofu can slash ovarian cancer risk."
"At the outset of the China Study," writes Dr. Campbell in his book, "no one could or would have ever predicted the relationship between cholesterol and any of the disease rates. What a surprise we got." Dr. Campbell and his team found that as blood cholesterol levels decrease, a slew of cancers decreases as well, including "cancers of the liver, rectum, colon, male lung, female lung, breast, childhood leukemia, adult leukemia, childhood brain, adult brain, stomach and esophagus (throat)."
According to Campbell, in addition to animal protein causing cancer, it also fuels cancer that exists. So you can have a carcinogen in your body, but it doesn't get "turned on" until you ingest animal flesh. Animal protein causes the carcinogen to grow and spread. Even so-called lean cuts of meat, as well as fish and chicken, are high in fat and protein, and as Dr. Campbell says, animal protein only causes "mischief."
Choose Health: Choose Vegetarian
From animal products doubling your risk of endometrial, to soy foods lowering your risk of contracting ovarian cancer, to carcinogenic arsenic in your chicken (and other meat, though in lower levels), to the news that animal protein is the big cause of dietary cancer (and remember, the American Cancer Society says that about 30 percent of cancer comes from what you eat!), it sure is looking like the "vegan thing" is making a lot more sense in a lot of different ways.
I highly recommend checking out The China Study to get the full scoop, which is full of fascinating information and gripping statistics. I give it out so much that I think I should be getting a commission. The book also gives tips on making the transition to a vegetarian diet, as does my last column, "One Bite at a Time: A Beginner's Guide to Conscious Eating."