Giving the world a healthy diet while balancing planetary resources may become untenable for the first time in 200,000 years of human existence, warns the latest study by Lancet
Confirming earlier studies about unsustainable eating habits of the people, a dire warning was issued in a study done by the EAT-Lancet commission on healthy diets and sustainable food systems in the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene, for the record, has been described as the current age during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment. The study which was published on January 17, 2019, said:
We can no longer feed our population a healthy diet while balancing planetary resources. For the first time in 200000 years of human history, we are severely out of synchronisation with the planet and nature.
The dominant diets that the world has been producing and eating for the past 50 years are no
longer nutritionally optimal, are a major contributor to climate change, and are accelerating erosion of natural biodiversity. Unless there is a comprehensive shift in how the world eats, there is no likelihood of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—with food and nutrition cutting across all 17 SDGs—or of meeting the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The study is a result of more than two years of collaboration between 37 experts from 16 countries, said more than 820 million people have insufficient food and many more consume an unhealthy diet that contributes to premature death and morbidity.
The 47-page long report further added that the human cost of our faulty food systems is that almost 1 billion people are hungry, and almost 2 billion people are eating too much wrong food.
According to Lancet study, the global burden of non-communicable diseases may worsen and further reduce the stability of the earth system are the effects of food production on greenhouse-gas emissions, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, biodiversity loss, and water and land use.
“Emission of methane and nitrous oxide from agricultural production are estimated to be 5.0-5.8 giga tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year while carbon dioxide emission from conversion of natural ecosystems, especially forests, to croplands and pastures is estimated to be 2.2-6.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year,” says the report.
Pointing out the reasons of the unhealthy evolution, the study says one of the factors is that though the agriculture production is at the highest level it has ever been, but it is neither resilient nor sustainable and intensive meat production is on an unstoppable trajectory comprising the single largest contributor to climate change.
The report also casts aspersions on the industry. “Industry has too lost its way, with commercial and political interests having far too much influence, with human health and our planet suffering the consequences,” it says.
The dietary shift that is needed, requires a dramatic reduction of consumption of unhealthy foods, such as red meat and sugar, by at least 50 percent, with a recommended daily combined intake of 14 g (in a range that suggests total meat consumption of no more than 28 g/day), with variations in the change required according to the region. At the same time, an overall increase in consumption of more than 100 percent is needed for legumes, nuts, fruit, and vegetables, with changes again varying according to region. This shift will also help reduce premature deaths worldwide by 19-23 percent.
“We estimated that changes in food production practices could reduce agricultural green-house gas emissions in 2050 by 10 percent, whereas increased consumption of plant-based diets could reduce emission by 80 percent,” the report says. Staying within the boundary for climate change can be achieved by consuming plant-based diets.
The report suggests a multipronged strategy. It bats for the fact that the agricultural priorities need to shift from producing high quantities of food to healthy food. “Production range should focus on a diverse range of nutritious foods, like biodiversity-enhancing food production systems, rather than increased volume of few crops, most of which are used for animal production,” the report says.
For high-quality output, the report entails reducing yield gaps, radical improvement in the efficiency and fertilizer use, recycling phosphorus, redistributing global use of nitrogen and phosphorus among other measures. Effective and coordinated governance of land and oceans is also a must. “Such governance includes implementing a zero-expansion policy of new agricultural land into natural ecosystems and species-rich forests, restoration and reforestation of degraded land and establishing mechanisms of international land-use governance,” says the report.
At Iamrenew, we do believe that leave alone red meat production, which remains a resource heavy and polluting option, even chicken ‘farming’ the dominant meat production worldwide now, has reached unsustainable levels, and it will take a vast, coordinated effort to wean people off meats. ‘ Industrial’ production of meat has come with massive consequences, dehumanising not just our relationship with food and the earth, but also the people who work in these industries. Countries like China, and the temperate zones are especially difficult to wean off, but the effort has to be made to reduce meat intake across all classes.
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