A group of international scientists has issued guidelines for a diet designed to be environmentally sustainable while promoting good health.
A radical transformation of the global food system is urgently needed. Without action, the world risks failing to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.
Made up of 37 scientists from 16 countries, the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health was created to reach a scientific consensus on a diet beneficial to human health, while aiming to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and fall in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change.
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The commission’s report, “Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems,” was published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, on January 16. This was followed by its official launch the next day in Oslo, Norway, which will be followed by a series of other events in cities across the globe.
The international commission examined the role of diet and food systems on climate change and how a growing global population could be fed while mitigating damage to the planet. Taking into account that there was no global consensus on what a healthy and environmentally sustainable diet could look like, this is the first science-based diet that attempts to recommend one that can be applied globally.
Divided into five working groups, the members of the commission examined five major themes in drawing up the report. These thoroughly examined what constitutes a healthy diet, the parameters of a sustainable food system, the trends shaping diets across the globe, the potential impacts of an environmentally sustainable diet on health, and the outlining of policies and actions designed to meet targets for health and sustainability.
Based on an examination of existing scientific evidence on how eating habits affect the environment and the impact of livestock farming on climate change, the report supports a shift to a largely plant-based diet. It also recommends at least a 50-percent decline in food waste and improvements in the methods of food production.
The proposed dietary guidelines recommend a diet largely made up of plant foods with only small amounts of meat and dairy, similar to the Mediterranean diet. Specifically, the report recommends more than doubling the consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts, and reducing the consumption of red meat, refined grains and sugary foods by more than 50 percent.
The commission has also come up with specific scientific targets that outline the quantity of specific foods to be consumed on a daily basis for optimal health. As for food production, the recommended targets point to factors such as the amount of land and water used, and limits to greenhouse gas emissions and phosphorous pollution.
The researchers conclude that the universal adoption of this planetary health diet would limit the further degradation of the environment and save 11 million people annually from deaths due to unhealthy eating habits.
“Global food production threatens climate stability and ecosystem resilience,” Dr Johan Rockström, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and one of the authors of the report, said.
“It constitutes the single largest driver of environmental degradation and transgression of planetary boundaries,” he added. “Taken together the outcome is dire. A radical transformation of the global food system is urgently needed. Without action, the world risks failing to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.”