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The Physicians Committee



Beef for China


© 2000, PHOTODISC

The World Bank provides loans and credits to impoverished countries to stimulate economic development. And, as its handbook states, these programs are intended to have "significant social and environmental impacts." Currently, the Bank plans to loan Chinese farmers $93.5 million in the form of cows, feedlots, and meat processing centers to bolster their incipient beef industry. If the meat industry does for the Chinese what it has done for Americans, there will certainly be "significant impacts," albeit not very healthy ones.

The traditional Chinese diet, rich in rice, noodles, and vegetables with little meat or dairy products, has spared many from developing heart disease and other chronic ailments commonly found in America and other affluent nations.

A study by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., explored the evolving disparities between rural and urban areas of China and found that although infectious diseases still strike poorer regions, degenerative diseases such as cancer and heart disease soon show up in communities where an improving economy affords more people the ability to purchase more meat. The findings revealed that even minor additions of animal products to an otherwise plant-based diet elevate blood cholesterol levels enough to increase the risk for serious chronic diseases.

Compared to the average American diet, 60 to 80 percent of which comes from animal-based products, the typical Chinese diet is much lower in fat and higher in fiber, with just 0 to 20 percent of foods coming from animal sources. Cancers and cardiovascular disease are less common outside large Chinese cities, as are breast cancer, obesity, and osteoporosis. These diseases consistently rise after beef replaces conventional grain and vegetable dishes. Osteoporosis is less prevalent in China even though calcium intake is low by American standards. It is believed that low intake of animal protein, regular physical activity, and prolonged consumption of low-calcium foods are the reason. Breast cancer, also less common, is significantly associated with higher levels of reproductive hormones, driven up by eating meat.

The price we pay for poor eating habits in the U.S. is astronomical and growing. More than 60 percent of U.S. medical costs—which climbed from $250 billion in 1980 to $666 billion in 1999—is spent on treating people with chronic disease. If we can't handle these medical costs here, how are the poor provinces of Henan, Hebei, Anhui, and Shandong going to manage?

Despite these findings, the World Bank is pursuing the project. In earlier meetings with Bank officials, Dr. Campbell and PCRM president Dr. Neal Barnard demonstrated the implications—environmental pollution, risk of chronic disease, and animal cruelty—of commencing the project. A letter from actor Alec Baldwin reiterating these concerns, a December demonstration outside World Bank headquarters in Washington, D.C., and numerous presentations and correspondence have as yet been ignored by the Bank.



 

Spring/Summer 2000 (Volume IX, Number 2)
Spring/Summer 2000
Volume IX
Number 2

Good Medicine
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