‘Food in the Anthropocene’: new ‘plant-focused’ diet could save the planet

A new diet report, created by the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health, has been proposed as a diet that could both poor global nutrition and avert environmental disaster caused by present-day food production methods.

The report states, “Because much of the world’s population is inadequately nourished and many environmental systems and processes are pushed beyond safe boundaries by food production, a global transformation of the food system is urgently needed.”

Key tenets of the diet include a radical change in food production, a great reduction in red meat consumption in traditional western diets, and a reduction in sugar consumption.

“Transformation to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts.” said Prof. Walter Willet, one of the leaders of the commission. “Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50%. A diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.”

The main bulk of the report itself is devoted to three sections, the goal, the targets, and the strategies. The goal stated by the EAT-Lancet Commission is ‘To achieve planetary health diets for nearly 10 billion people by 2050″. The targets include and require red meat and sugar consumption to be cut in half globally, while the consumption of vegetables, pulses, fruit, and nuts, must double. This range is not universal, but geographically specific, stating that instead of halving their red meat intake, North Americans need to eat 84% less, and up their bean and lentil consumption six times. In Europe, we must reduce our red meat consumption by 77%.

The report is wise in it’s differing estimations, noting that “some populations worldwide depend on agropastoral livelihoods and animal protein from livestock. In addition, many populations continue to face significant burdens of undernutrition and obtaining adequate quantities of micronutrients from plant source foods alone can be difficult” 

The introduction of the report stated that their were four scenarios that could develop in the future; win-win, win-lose, lose-win, and lose-lose. According to the scientists behind the report, win-win would prevent the deaths of 11 million people worldwide, and prevent the collapse of the natural world, which is currently under an immense amount of pressure.

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An example of the plant-focused, flexitarian plates that the report endorses. Source: EAT-Lancet Commission Summary Report

Our global food system is inherently broken, with distribution favouring wealthier countries, who both consume more than they need, and waste much. There are also issues with physical production, in terms of the environmental degradation caused by overfishing, and the footprint of the meat industry. Reducing meat and dairy products, or avoiding them altogether, may be the greatest way the individual can reduce their environmental footprint.

In a report published by Springmann et al, it was stated that a 90% drop in red meat consumption and reductions in other meat categories were essential to introduce into our lifestyles in an attempt to avoid the effects of climate breakdown.

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet,” said Prof Johan Rockström at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden, another author of the report. “[This requires] nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution.” The ‘planetary health diet’ strongly recommends only one portion of red meat per week, the size of an average beefburger, and stresses that most protein should come from plant alternatives. The steep rise in plant-based and vegan diets in the last two years has shown that, at least in western countries, this change in protein source is highly possible, and no longer a ‘radical’ idea.

Willett emphasises that this is not a diet of ‘depravation’, but rather “a way of eating that can be healthy, flavourful and enjoyable.”

To keep in line with the 2C limit of global warming set by the Paris Agreement we can assume that “world agriculture will transition toward sustainable food production, leading to a shift from land use being a net source of carbon to becoming a net sink of carbon. “

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“Actions considered for reducing environmental impacts from food production.” Source: EAT-Lancet Commission Summary Report

“Global food production threatens climate stability and ecosystem resilience.” said Prof. Johan Rockström, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research & Stockholm Resilience Centre. “It constitutes the single largest driver of environmental degradation and transgression of planetary boundaries. 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.”

In all, the report advocates the ‘Great Food Transformation’. “The data are both sufficient and strong enough to warrant immediate action. Delaying action will only increase the likelihood of serious, even disastrous, consequences. ” The report outlines five strategies for this immense change:

  1. Seek international and national commitment to shift toward healthy diets
  2. Reorient agricultural priorities from producing high quantities of food to producing healthy food
  3. Sustainably intensify food production to increase high-quality output
  4. Strong and coordinated governance of land and oceans
  5. At least halve food losses and waste, in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals

The report goes on to state that food will be the “defining issue of the 21st Century”. Richard Horton and Tamara Lucas, editors at Lancet, wrote “Civilisation is in crisis. We can no longer feed our population a healthy diet while balancing planetary resources. If we can eat in a way that works for our planet as well as our bodies, the natural balance will be restored.”

 

 

 

 

COP24’s meat-heavy menu could contribute 4,000 metric tons of emissions to atmosphere

Right at this moment delegates from all over the world are meeting in Katowice, Poland, for COP24, the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change conference, to discuss the implementation of plans to limit greenhouse gas emissions so that global heating is restricted to 1.5C.

Of course, this means that delegates need to be fed. You would think that the fare on offer would as eco-friendly as possible. Unfortunately this is not the case. A new study by the Center for Biological Diversity, Brighter Green, and Farm Forward, has discovered that the menu on offer could potentially be responsible for 4,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

The report opens ‘While world leaders gather in Katowice, Poland, for the upcoming United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference (UNFCCC), or COP24, the main food court serving the conference’s estimated 30,000 visitors is offering twice as many meat-based entrees as plant-based entrees. This means a menu with an unnecessarily high carbon foodprint. If international climate conferences hope to lead the way in addressing the climate crisis, organizers can’t afford to overlook the food offered at their events.’

The study stated that the meat-based options generated around 4.1kg CO2e per serving, while the plant-based options emitted around 4 times less than that, at 0.9kg CO2e per serving. If each of COP24’s 30,000 visitors chose a meat-based dish during the conference, this would contribute the equivalent of ‘burning more than 500,000 gallons of gasoline or the greenhouse gas emissions attributed to 3,000 people flying from New York to Katowice.’

To put the menu into specifics, the least carbon-intensive entrée is cabbage and mushroom dumplings, which in comparison to the most carbon-intensive entrée, beef with smoked bacon, produced 35 times less greenhouse gas emissions. Now it may seem of interest to offer a wide-range of foodstuffs to cater to everyone’s individual tastes and dietary requirements, but when a group of people gather to lead the charge against climate breakdown, shouldn’t their personal actions reflect their lofty ideals?

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‘If the food court replaced the beef patties with plant-based patties on its cheeseburgers with Louisiana sauce, it could cut each burger’s carbon footprint by 82 percent, or 6 kg of GHG emissions each.’

“The meat-laden menu at COP24 is an insult to the work of the conference,” said Stephanie Feldstein, director of the Population and Sustainability program at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If the world leaders gathering in Poland hope to address the climate crisis, they need to tackle overconsumption of meat and dairy, starting with what’s on their own plates. That means transitioning the food served at international climate conferences to more plant-based options with smaller carbon footprints.”

30% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are made up of emissions directly caused by the global food system, with a large amount of those emissions being caused by animal agriculture.

‘If current trends continue, food production will nearly exhaust the global carbon budget for all sectors by 2050.’

For us to effectively tackle climate breakdown, both the production and consumption of meat and dairy must be reduced significantly. If we want to keep global heating below 1.5C, a drastic shift in our diets needs to occur, especially with the high meat consumption in western countries, and the growing demand for meat in countries like China.

A report published in 2014 called ‘Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans in the UK‘, noted that the average emissions of meat eaters was 7.19kgCO2e/day compared to 2.89kgCO2e/day for those who consumed a vegan diet.

‘In conclusion, dietary GHG emissions in self-selected meat-eaters are approximately twice as high as those in vegans. It is likely that reductions in meat consumption would lead to reductions in dietary GHG emissions.’

Unfortunately, even though the science of agricultural emissions is sound, the issue is not one that has been covered in international climate negotiations and debates. This lack of attention is shown by the short-sighted menu offered at COP24.

“We know that we cannot meet the Paris Agreement goals, or the 1.5C target, with business as usual,” said Caroline Wimberly of Brighter Green, who will be in Katowice for COP24. “Food is not a matter only of personal choice, but an essential factor in solving the climate crisis. Demand-side policies and efforts, including food waste reductions and shifting diets—prioritizing populations with the highest consumption of animal-based foods—are critical in achieving a climate compatible food system and curtailing emissions.”

 

 

 

The taxation of red meat is a needed measure to save lives, states new research

New research published in the journal Plos One, a peer-reviewed Open Access journal that publishes ‘scientifically rigorous research’, has stated that a taxation on red meat would save many lives and also raise large amounts of money for use in healthcare. The research found that ‘Including the social health cost of red and processed meat consumption in the price of red and processed meat could lead to significant health and environmental benefits, in particular in high and middle-income countries.

This new research, headed up by Dr Marco Springmann, who currently works on the Future of Food project at the Oxford Martin School, uses a standard economic approach, named ‘optimal taxation, to calculate tax rates. The healthcare costs incurred by eating one additional portion of red meat is used to set the tax rate, in contrast to using the total healthcare costs that come about through red meat consumption.

While factually correct, it is still relatively unheard of that processed red meat had been classified as a carcinogen by the World Health Organisation in 2015, and yet despite this announcement, the consumption of red meat is on an upward trend, especially in western countries. For example, in the United Kingdom of 1961, the amount of meat consumption was 69.8kg. In 2002 it was 79.6kg. In the US of 1961, meat consumption per capita was 89.2kg, and in 2002 it was 124.8kg, and increase in 40 years of 35.6kg of meat.

The findings stated that, based on current trends, the health-related costs to society ‘attributable to red and processed meat consumption in 2020 amount to USD 285 billion… three quarters of which were due to processed meat consumption’.

As the prices of processed meat increased by 25% on average under optimal taxation, and prices for red meat increased by 4% on average, the number of deaths attributable to these two foodstuffs decreased by 9% annually, with health costs decreased by 14%, valued at USD 41 billion.

These taxes were created relative to the amount of meat consumed and do not represent a flat global rate. The US would be one of the countries with the highest rates, for example, there would be a 163% levy on ham. Australian meat prices would be met with a 109% tax on processed, and a 18% tax on unprocessed meats. UK rates would 79% and 14% for those food-groups respectively.

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‘Change in the price of red meat (a) and processed meat (b) under cost-compensating taxation in relation to attributable health costs (%), change in deaths attributable to red and processed meat consumption (%)’. Image: Springmann, Mason-D’Croz, Robinson, Weibe, Godfray, Rayner, Scarborough.

“Nobody wants governments to tell people what they can and can’t eat,” Springmann said. “It is totally fine if you want to have [red meat], but this personal consumption decision really puts a strain on public funds. It is not about taking something away from people, it is about being fair.”

The intensive method and global scale of meat demand and subsequent production is also an incredibly damaging industry to the living planet. In a critical report from a group at the University of Oxford published in May, it was stated that reducing meat and dairy products, or avoiding them altogether, is the single biggest way as an individual to reduce your environmental impact. In a similar report, also published by Springmann et al, it was stated that a 90% drop in red meat consumption and reductions in other meat categories are essential to introduce into our lifestyles in an attempt to avoid the effects of climate breakdown.

More than 80% of arable farmland is used for livestock, in both intensive and organic farms, but it produces just 18% of global food calories. We see this a drastic misuse of land, resulting in not only the willing destruction of native habitats, but the production of large amounts of greenhouse gases. Per 100g of beef produced, a further 105kg of greenhouse gases are created. It is possible that the recommended drop in red meat consumption is a conservative figure, and a route more beneficial to the environment would be to give up the foodstuff altogether, replacing it with plant-based alternatives.

These taxes proposed by Springmann et all, would mean a 16% reduction in the processed meat consumed globally, and would result in the greenhouse gas emissions produced by livestock to reduce by 110m tonnes annually.

What are your thoughts?