It’s been a roller coaster ride for the red and processed meat industries over the past few months. In August, Meat and Livestock Australia were on a high with the release of a specially commissioned supplement issue for one of Australia’s top nutrition Journals (which they sponsor), Nutrition and Dietetics, on the Role of Red Meat in the Australian diet.

But before the ink was dry, one of the world’s leading medical journals, the Lancet, published a longish paper by some of Australia’s leading epidemiologists and health experts on global diets, which called for the developed world to halve its meat consumption, citing both environmental and health reasons. They drew attention to the greenhouse impacts of methane, together with health issues including heart disease and colorectal cancer.

Meat and Livestock Australia were just trying to climb off the canvas when two of the world’s top cancer agencies, the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research, published their long-awaited 517-page report “Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective”, which states unequivocally that the evidence for both red and processed meats in raising colorectal cancer risk (one of Australia’s biggest killer diseases) was “convincing”.

This was their top category of certainty. They called for people to limit red meat and avoid processed meat.

Both the Lancet article and the cancer report squarely indicate that the CSIRO is swimming like a dying salmon against a huge waterfall with its high red meat, high methane, totally misnamed “Total Wellbeing Diet”. This diet can probably lay claim to being the planet’s most environmentally destructive, with some people adding as many as 6 tonnes of greenhouse gases to their global footprint per year by following its guidelines. Colorectal cancer rates can be expected to be higher for people on the diet and in 10 years’ time the CSIRO could be fighting class actions which will rival the tobacco wars — especially with the diet book now on sale in the US, where litigants are not known for shyness.

Now comes the latest edition of Australasian Science with an article by myself and the Professor of Climate Change at Adelaide University, Barry Brook, arguing for further red meat production reduction. It explains that methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than most people realise from simple statements of the Kyoto protocol accounting potency factors.

But methane’s very potency and the relative ease with which livestock numbers can be reduced and other methane sources controlled, provide the planet with an opportunity to significantly reduce global warming impacts while waiting for the big energy innovations which deal with CO2 to take effect. Red meat production is the largest single source of human-generated methane and its clear link with colorectal cancer provides yet more reason for rapid and deep cuts in red meat production.