The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently released a report detailing ways countries can improve human health and restore the environment through sustainable diets.
The report, Bending the Curve: The Restorative Power of Planet-Based Diets, calls for a planet-based diet, which researchers define as eating habits that benefit both human health and the natural environment.
To develop their recommendations, researchers at WWF analyzed dietary patterns in 147 different countries and found five strategic actions achievable through dietary shifts. They call on countries to reverse biodiversity loss, live within the global carbon budget for food, feed humanity on existing cropland, achieve negative emissions, and optimize crop yields.
The report then breaks down global food system solutions into national-level ideas to improve diet. Brent Loken, Lead Author and Global Food Lead Scientist for WWF, tells Food Tank, “Individual countries will have the tools and the data that they need to say, ‘If I want to take this on, what are the implications for me?’”
Alongside the report, WWF launched Planet-Based Diets, a science-based web platform. The platform allows users to explore current consumption patterns in the 147 countries studied and learn about action steps and policy solutions.
Users can also build their diet with the Impact and Action Calculator. With the calculator, they can see how six dietary patterns and 13 food groups impact biodiversity loss, greenhouse gas emissions, cropland use, grazing land use, water use, and eutrophication, or the harmful excess of nutrients in water. WWF designed the website for national policymakers and individuals who want to help better the environment through their diets.
“One of the most surprising things is just the sheer impact. Increasing your meat consumption by a few grams per day makes a huge difference,” Loken tells Food Tank.
According to the calculator, if everyone in the United States reduced their red meat consumption by just 650 Calories (about one steak), it would prevent 274 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of taking 59 million cars off the road.
WWF believes that focusing on diets at the national level rather than the global level is important because a solution that works in one country might not work in another. For example, the report finds that globally, the main driver of biodiversity loss from food consumption is red meat and dairy. But in Denmark, over half of biodiversity loss is from importing coffee, tea, cocoa, and spices. Countries like Denmark need accurate and localized information like this to implement dietary shifts that maximize environmental restoration.
WWF hopes that nations will use the localized data available in the report and the platform to prepare for the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit, where the organization will lead national-level dialogues exploring sustainable food production.
To keep the platform current, WWF will continue to work directly with health organizations, conservation organizations, and local governments to evaluate and add data. WWF also plans to improve the Impact and Action Calculator by displaying a warning if a selected diet surpasses an environmental threshold.
“It can’t be static. It must be something that’s updated all the time because this data is changing very fast,” Loken says, “This is only the beginning, believe me. We’ve got big plans for this.”
Photo courtesy of WWF-US / James Morgan
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