By Rebecca Flannery
US media outlet Vox recently claimed “174 animals are going to die for you in your lifetime”.
As US ‘pro-meat’ spokesperson Diana Rodgers points out, the reality is 137 of them are shrimp.
Dietitian, nutritionist, former farmer and documentary maker Diana Rodgers has built an international career and celebrity spokesperson profile out of responding to ridiculous non-scientific claims, like that one, made in the media about meat production and consumption.
Diana was a keynote speaker at the Primary Industries New Zealand Summit in Auckland in early July.
Diana’s presentation was based on her growing concern that newsrooms around the world are now so easily driven by clickbait storytelling and commentary, that they’ve forgotten how to use science-based facts.
Her words resonated with the PINZ crowd. In the audience of 700 people, phones were put down, laptops closed, people sat up a little straighter.
Diana farmed livestock for 18 years and understands the science around diet and nutrition inside out. She is an advocate for the need for humans to have animal-based protein diets.
Diana launched her ‘Sustainable Dish’ website and formed The Global Food Justice Alliance to put real facts about eating animal-based protein in front of the media and the public.
She’s written a book, ‘Sacred Cow’, which has been turned in to a documentary. Disturbingly, she can’t get Netflix to show it.
Diana says our screens are swamped with vegan and anti-farming documentaries because the media is being encouraged to tell these stories and do not challenge the facts.
“Bill Gates is the largest landowner in the United States, if everything was up to him, we would be eating fibre bars with protein in them, no livestock at all, he would own all of the mono crop and the patents to all the food.
“Groups like his try to equate feeding your kids bacon or sausage in the morning as the same as giving them cigarettes. Which is nonsense.”
Diana says there are no scientifically based studies which show omitting meat out of diets is going to result in healthier people or achieve a substantial shift in greenhouse gas emissions.
“All they’re doing is showing a risk. But they’re not telling you what the relative risk is. Yes, excessive exposure to sunlight could cause skin cancer, but that doesn’t mean you should never go out in the sun. In the case of eating processed meat, it increases the risk to about three extra cases of bowel cancer per 100,000 adults.”
In terms of nutrition the common advice is men should eat 64 grams of protein per day and women should be about 46 grams of protein per day.
“But there’s evidence that twice the RDA (recommended daily allowance) is actually optimal, especially when you’re over 40.”
In the last 10 years our meat consumption has gone down in New Zealand and hospitalization for iron deficiency has doubled.
“Iron is way better absorbed from animal source foods than from plant source foods. And our obesity rate is also getting much higher.”
Diana lays the blame for this on ultra-processed foods.
“Right now, they’re the ones that are driving the obesity epidemic, you can be overfed yet malnourished.”
In Africa, studies have shown people that have more access to animal source foods live longer, better lives.
“But luckily, the reality of a vegan diet is that 84% of them give it up after three months, it’s completely unsustainable.”
Here in New Zealand bone density and fractures in hospitals are much higher from vegetarian and vegan populations.
“DHA is something again that you can only find in animal source foods, and it’s critical for brain development.”
In New Zealand farmers are overwhelmed with a tsunami of regulations with questionable scientific basis. Fighting for good science reporting around food is hard given all the other things farmers need to work on.
So how do we fix these myths around nutrition and sustainable animal food systems?
Diana suggests taking female health influencers to farms, showing them the process, explaining everything to them, about ecosystem function and how animals are treated.
“They’re going to be your best brand ambassadors out there.
“Moms want to know that they’re giving their kids the best nutrition. So, if you can really point out the iron and the B12 that’s in animal source foods. They want to do right by their children”.
In terms of reducing livestock to reduce emissions Diana points out the additional harm this will create in rural economies.
“Reducing livestock is going to be quite harmful in so many other ways, when we’re overly focused on just carbon emissions without really understanding the full impact livestock has on livelihoods and ecosystems.”
Transportation, electricity, and industry far outweigh livestock carbon emissions.
“I’m not denying that methane is a potent greenhouse gas, but comparing the methane from cattle to fossil fuels is not an apples-to-apples comparison.
“Up to 40% can get sequestered, you can also build new soil, and the H2O becomes part of the water cycle. This is not the same as fossil fuels. It is just wrong to be comparing fossil fuels to the methane coming from cattle.”
Diana is deeply troubled by the idea of controlling territorial emissions, which at best seem extremely unfair when a country like Saudi Arabia can be zero.
“The way things are calculated, with New Zealand overburdened all because you’re producing this amazing food that’s feeding so many people in the world. It’s not really fair.”