Saving the world, one mouthful at a time

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
An international report calls for the world to adopt a new style of eating to help save the world.

If we're serious about feeding the world's growing population healthy food, and not ruining the planet, we need to get used to a new style of eating. This includes cutting our Western meat and sugar intakes by around 50% and doubling the amount of nuts, fruits, vegetables and legumes we eat.

These are the findings the international EAT-Lancet Commission released recently. The commission gathered 37 leading experts in nutrition, agriculture, ecology, political sciences and environmental sustainability from 16 countries.

Over two years, the scientists mapped the links between food, health and the environment and formulated global targets for healthy diets and sustainable food production. This includes five specific strategies to achieve through global co-operation.

Right now, the world produces, ships, eats and wastes food in a way that is a lose-lose for both people and planet - but we can flip this trend.

What is going wrong?

Almost 1billion people lack sufficient food, yet more than 2billion suffer from obesity and food-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.

The foods causing these health epidemics are pushing our planet to the brink.

One-third of greenhouse gas emissions come from food production. Our global food system leads to extensive deforestation and species extinction, while depleting our oceans and fresh water resources.

To make matters worse, we lose or throw away about a third of all food produced - enough to feed the world's hungry four times over, every year.

At the same time, our food systems are at risk due to environmental degradation and climate change. These food systems are essential to providing the diverse, high-quality foods we consume.

A radical new approach

To improve the health of people and the planet, we have developed a ''planetary health diet'', which is globally applicable - irrespective of your geographic, economic or cultural background - and locally adaptable.

It is largely composed of vegetables and fruits, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and unsaturated oils. It includes high-quality meat, dairy and sugar, but in quantities far lower than are consumed in many wealthier societies.

Of course, some populations do not get nearly enough animal-source foods necessary for growth, cognitive development and optimal nutrition. Food systems in these regions need to improve.

The shift is radical but achievable - and is possible without any expansion in land use for agriculture. Such a shift will also see us reduce the amount of water used during production, while reducing nitrogen and phosphorous usage and runoff. This is critical to safeguarding land and ocean resources.

By 2040, our food systems should begin soaking up greenhouse emissions - rather than being a net emitter.

How to get there

The commission outlines five implementable strategies for a food transformation:

Make healthy diets the new normal - leaving no-one behind

Shift the world to healthy, tasty and sustainable diets by investing in better public health information and implementing supportive policies.

Unhealthy food outlets and their marketing must be restricted. Informal markets and street vendors should also be encouraged to sell healthier, more sustainable food.

Grow what is best for both people and planet

Realign food system priorities for people and planet so agriculture becomes a leading contributor to sustainable development rather than the largest driver of environmental change.

The measure of success is that agriculture one day becomes a carbon sink, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Produce more of the right food, from less

Move away from producing ''more'' food towards producing ''better food''.

This means using sustainable ''agroecological'' practices and emerging technologies.

In animal production, reformulating feed to make it more nutritious would allow us to reduce the amount of grain and, therefore, land needed for food.

We also need to redirect incentives to under-produced crops that underpin healthy diets rather than crops whose overconsumption drives poor health.

Safeguard our land and oceans

There is essentially no additional land to spare for further agricultural expansion. Degraded land must be restored or reforested. Specific strategies for curbing biodiversity loss include keeping half of the current global land area for nature, while sharing space on cultivated lands. The same applies for our oceans.

Radically reduce food losses and waste

Poor harvest scheduling, careless handling of produce and inadequate cooling and storage are some of the reasons why food is lost. Similarly, consumers must start throwing less food away. This includes being more conscious about portions and better understanding of ''best before'' and ''use by'' labels.

Planetary health diet

The planetary health diet consists of: vegetables and fruit (550g per day) wholegrains (230g per day) dairy products, such as milk and cheese (250g per day) protein sourced from plants, such as lentils, peas, nuts and soy foods (100g per day) small quantities of fish (28g per day), chicken (25g per day) and red meat (14g) eggs (1.5 per week) small quantities of fats (50g per day) and sugar (30g per day).

Authors: Dr Alessandro R Demaio is fellow in global health & NCDs, University of Copenhagen; Jessica Fanzo is Bloomberg distinguished associate professor of global food and agriculture policy and ethics, Johns Hopkins University; and Mario Herrero is chief research scientist, food systems and the environment, CSIRO.



If you are worried about climate change, read this again: "The measure of success is that agriculture one day becomes a carbon sink, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere."
Then look up Allan Savory:
And Kristen Ohlson:
These researchers and others believe it has been human agricultural practices over thousands of years largely causing climate change, accelerating with the industrial revolution and the burning of fossil fuels. The good news is that the carbon can be put back in the soil by sustainable eco-agriculture and enough of it can be put back in time - and also grow us healthy food. Carbon soil sequestration is not a matter of doing 'one day' but rather 'as soon as possible'.


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