Should Meat Be Sold With Warning Labels?

In spite of ample evidence highlighting the problems with excessive meat consumption, physicians are not provided any specific guidance about counseling their patients on reducing meat consumption.
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The Food and Drug Administration recently released nine new graphic warning labels that will be required on all cigarettes sold after September 2012. Warning labels on cigarette packets were first required in the U.S. back in 1965, following a Surgeon General's report about the dangers of cigarette smoking. Over the years, these warning labels have been found to be useful in communicating the health hazards of smoking, encouraging smokers to quit, and discouraging new smokers. Could meat and other animal products suffer a similar fate eventually?

There currently seems to be a serious disconnect within medicine when it comes to meat. In spite of ample evidence highlighting how excessive meat consumption has been linked to cancer, heart problems and other degenerative diseases and that consuming a no- or low-meat diet has several health benefits, physicians are not provided any specific guidance (via ethical and legal policies) about counseling their patients on reducing meat consumption.

In an interesting article, titled "Doctors without Burgers" that was recently featured on One Green Planet, bioethicist, Dr. Jessica Pierce examines this disconnect and makes some interesting observations. She notes, "In my years spent working as a professor of bioethics at a large Midwestern academic medical center, I was baffled by many things, but none more than the issue of food. I rarely ate on the premises of the med center, but oftentimes my work required me to meet others over lunch at the cafeteria. I would pass by the Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and McDonald's concessions--where patients being treated for their cancers or heart disease, and the doctors treating them, could all take their fill of the meat, salt, fat, and sugar. And I would think to myself, 'What the hell is going on here?'"

The piece highlights how (like cigarettes) meat has the potential to harm not only those who partake, but a great many others as well, because of industrial livestock production's contribution to greenhouse-gas emissions, soil contamination, loss of biodiversity, global patterns of hunger and malnutrition, land use, water and air pollution, as well as food-borne illnesses. Yet, surprisingly, the American Medical Association is silent on the issue of eating meat.

While Government-mandated warning labels on packaged meat may be a long time coming, should the medical community acknowledge the dangers of meat by requiring doctors to counsel their patients on reducing meat consumption? Moreover, should doctors themselves be reducing their own meat consumption as a good first step?

Read Dr. Pierce's insightful article and share your thoughts.

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