Deforestation and Disease: Is beef consumption killing the planet?

‘It’s hard to justify beef consumption’

Who doesn’t love a good steak or a burger? I know I’ve had my fair share.

But is beef, or maybe more specifically cattle ranching, leading to the end of the Amazon rainforest? It isn’t the only reason trees are cut down, but it might be the biggest. The red meat trade is massive in Brazil and the United States, and many other places in the world.

To supply high demand, companies need land to grow and keep livestock, and when they run out, they need to make more space. That’s when the machines and crews move in to clear the forest to make way for cows.

Part 1: How deforestation is connected to our health: ‘Nature is really trying to tell us something’

It’s a problem those on the frontlines of the issue know all too well. Dr. Ari Bernstein, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, says too much beef consumption is harmful in more ways than one.

“It’s hard to justify beef consumption,” Bernstein says red meat consumption is killing Americans, “So we know that red meat consumption is driving people to get diseases that are leading them to die early. Especially when it’s processed red meat, so, you know, cured meats, ground meats. So we would be doing ourselves a favor for our own health to eat less red meat.” According to, 80% of the Amazon’s deforestation linked to cattle ranching.

It’s important to note that the Amazon isn’t the only rainforest under attack. West Kalimantan in Indonesia has had its struggles. Fires have decimated the area; there are examples all over the globe. But none get the notoriety that the Amazon does because of how much destruction is happening there.

Greenpeace Forest Campaign Director Daniel Brindis says the scope of the damage is scary, “In the past year in Brazil, and just in the Amazon, they lost like 18 Detroit’s in terms of the scale.” Brindis has his eyes on the globe and is seeing trends. Zoonotic diseases are emerging more frequently than ever, and it costs everyone, “There have been scientists ringing the alarm bell, and one thing that’s just like zoonotic diseases and climate change is that there’s a great cost of inaction.” Brindis is referring to health, yes, but also another kind of cost.


The almighty dollar prevails. To many, it’s worth more than trees, animals, clean water, clean air, the ozone layer, the future of the planet, human health, and life itself. People know it comes back to cash.

You’ve heard it before, “follow the money,” right? Assistant Professor of medicine at the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida, Dr. Amy Vittor, echos this sentiment, “Even if many of us individuals care about more than money, what makes the world turn, unfortunately, to date, is money and power.” Many involved in deforestation focus on short-sighted goals, which can be costly.

Dr. Ari Bernstein points to our current situation to illustrate, “We’re spending around $10 trillion to dig us out of the COVID hole.” Bernstein is talking about the measures to keep people safe, explore vaccine options and economic issues, among other things.

But he says being proactive by funding science to reduce deforestation, monitor wildlife trade for pathogens, viral discovery, and more, we could have saved a lot of lives and a lot of money. A LOT OF MONEY “(It) would cost around 20 to $30 billion a year, globally. And that sounds like a lot of money until you look at the cost of this one pandemic and realize that if you spent 20 to $30 billion every year for a decade, you’d still only have spent about a few percent of $10 trillion.”

Saying someone should have been proactive, retroactive to an event is an easy thing to do. It’s the forward-thinking part that’s tough. Dr. Joe Eisenberg, Professor, and Chair of the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Michigan says science needs to reposition itself for a different perspective on climate change the connection to disease, “I’ve been working in climate change, and disease questions for decades, and it’s true that most climate change researchers don’t think about the link to disease as much.”

Eisenberg says he thinks people are thinking about it more now than ever before. And that might get people thinking more proactively!

Time keeps on slipping, into the future

So, what next? What you can do to help slow down deforestation, climate change, and everything else attached. We’ll explore it all in our final chapter!

Part 1: How deforestation is connected to our health: ‘Nature is really trying to tell us something’

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