Planet before people

January 7, 2020

Some hospitals are forgoing science in putting the planet’s health before that of their patients:

Patients’ health will suffer if hospitals cut down on meat and dairy in meals, the country’s former chief education health and nutrition adviser warns.

However, another researcher has backed the push for plants to replace meat and dairy in meals, saying our meat consumption seriously harms health and the planet.

New sustainability guidelines for the health sector include a recommendation to reduce meat and dairy, including by developing new hospital menus and encouraging plant-based diets. Some hospitals have brought in “meat-free Monday” trials.

The environment can and does impact on health but thinking that a little less meat eaten in hospitals will have an impact on climate change is ridiculous and the health and welfare of patients must be hospital’s first priority.

The guidelines have been criticised by Grant Schofield, professor of public health at Auckland University of Technology.

“We are talking about our most vulnerable, sickest people, and food is an important part of that, and we take meat and dairy out – it just utterly beggars belief,” he told the Herald.

“Hospital food is generally of a pretty poor quality anyway, it is generally pretty highly processed. If you wanted to improve hospital meals you would look at the quality of the food, and meat would be my last possible target, because it is one of the best sources of nutrition, protein, good-quality fat and vitamins and minerals. To take that out of it seems objectionable.” . . .

My experience of hospital food is that it is high on stodge and low on protein, roughage and vitamins, of which meat can be a valuable source.

Vegetarian and vegan diets can be healthy but it takes a lot of care, and usually higher cost, to replace the nutrients lost from going meat-free.

Schofield, who advocates a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet and quit his Government advisory role over a lack of action on obesity, said cutting meat and dairy in hospital meals to counter climate change was “nonsense”.

“I think we have unfairly demonised meat and got it into our heads that it is somehow ruining the planet.”

The Ministry of Health’s sustainability guidelines were released in July, and note that agriculture accounts for almost half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Sigh, a repeat of the half-baked argument that doesn’t take into account either nutrient content of what agriculture produces nor that most of the produce is exported to feed people in other countries so eating less here will have no impact at all on production.

After the guidelines were released Dieticians NZ, the professional body for dietetics, labelled the meat and dairy recommendation disappointing and not appropriate for those in hospital, who are often malnourished.

People in hospital are there to be treated for what ails them, not to be used for virtue signalling.

Not everyone agrees.

That position drew a response from Professor John Potter, of the Centre for Public Health Research at Massey University, who wrote in a blog post that even if some patients needed more protein, this could be sourced from plants. . .  

It could, but not as easily and probably at a greater cost.

A nutritious diet is an important part of healing and good health.

Decisions on what people in hospital eat should be made on the basis of the science that determines what’s best for them, not that of the planet, especially when emotion rather than science often guides the anti-meat dogma of the dark green who put the health of the planet ahead of the health of people.


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