The EAT-Lancet Commission for Food, Planet, and Health released its scientific review on January 17, 2019, publishing the world’s first-ever scientific targets for healthy diets and sustainable food production. The report attempts to provide targets that join civil society, public health, and environmental conservation’s various goals toward health and sustainability—while outlining the urgent actions needed from consumers, policymakers, businesses, and government agencies to transform the food system.
Leading scientists in nutrition and public health— including co-chairs Johan Rockström, Professor at the Stockholm Resilience Center and Walter Willett, Professor at Harvard University’s Departments of Nutrition and Epidemiology—set out global guidelines for a universal, healthy diet. This diet, on average of 2500 calories per person, suggests eaters fill half their plates with fruits, nuts, and vegetables; transition to whole grains; and moderately consume meat—expanding or limiting their diets to include meat equivalent to one small burger a week.
“The dietary recommendations made are quite accessible to individuals,” says Fabrice DeClerck, EAT Science Director. “It isn’t a set diet, it’s a flexible diet offering a range of options that reduce health risks— this flexibility allows for multiple cultural preferences, geographic preferences, economic capacities to eat healthy diets.”
“Just by going towards a diet that is good for individual health, eaters already have an impact on environment,” adds DeClerck. According to the report, both consumers and producers in the global food system drive environmental harm: which, according to the Commission, does not include solely climate, but also includes biodiversity, land conversion or loss, freshwater use, and nitrogen and phosphorus pollution of waters. For example, the food system drives nearly 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, occupies 40 percent of land, and causes 80 percent of biodiversity loss, DeClerck told Food Tank.
The EAT-Lancet Commission notes the food system’s environmental impact is pushing planetary limits that guarantee a stable and safe environment—if the estimated 10 billion people in 2050 maintain current Western-style diets, would far exceed planetary limits. The Commission tested whether providing humanity with healthy diets within planetary limits is feasible, or whether food security and environmental sustainability are at odds with each other.
“Absolutely, it’s possible,” says DeClerck, adding that shift towards healthy diets, reducing food waste and loss, and closing yield gaps with sustainable intensification will make it possible to feed a growing population of nearly 10 billion by 2050 without further food systems-related land expansion. These measures include environmental targets like reducing yield gaps by 75 percent, limiting biodiversity loss to less than ten extinctions per million species per year, and creating a downward trend for global carbon dioxide emissions caused by the food system before 2020.
“Now, we’re focusing on turning knowledge to action,” says DeClerck. “We’ve been building a strong community of practice with civil society, policy makers, and purpose-driven businesses.” In partnerships with national-level governments, city-level governments, and the World Business Council, the EAT-Lancet Commission ensures these actors adhere to set targets by helping them prepare pathways, policies, and interventions toward a great food transformation.
The review marks the scientific community’s first attempt to set clear scientific targets for food, defining a universal dietary standard, and specific environmental limits for food: the consensus on which had been missing. “We’ve been getting lost in the weeds. What we’ve seen is that science has become so specialized that a lot of the academic discourse and debates [about sodium, fats, and more] are really so granular that they highlight highly specific academic debates,” says DeClerck. In contrast, the report’s authors— spanning the health, environment, agriculture, and policy arenas—evaluate the food system with an integrative and holistic approach that pieces together a bigger picture for healthy and sustainable diets
The EAT-Lancet Commission, led by 20 Commissioners with the support of 16 additional scientists, is a partnership between the EAT Foundation and the Lancet formed to set global dietary guidelines improve health and set science targets to guide food systems toward health and sustainability. The Commission will launch the report at 30 events across the globe, with major launches in Oslo, Norway; Jakarta, Indonesia; New York City, United States; Melbourne, Australia; and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
For more information about the EAT-Lancet Commission’s report release events, CLICK HERE.
Photo courtesy of the EAT Forum.