On June 12th-13th the EAT-Lancet Commission held their Food Forum in Stockholm. Planetary health has recently been included as a focus area within the Commission to highlight the critical role that diets play in linking human health and environmental sustainability and the subsequent necessity to integrate the two into a worldwide programme for food system transformation to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement.
Presently food systems are in a state of dichotomy. The worldwide population is estimated to reach 10 billion people by 2050 and 3 billion people are currently malnourished. Subsequently there is an urgent necessity for a transformation in the way food is produced and eaten to deliver a sustainable food system for people and the planet.
The EAT-Lancet Commission has stated that it is possible to feed the world’s growing population a sustainable, healthy diet without further harming the planet but that it will require significant changes.
The Planetary Health Plate
Much research has been conducted on the environmental impacts of varying diets, resulting in a conclusion that a diet high in plant-based foods results in both improved health and environmental benefits. Thus, a sustainable diet is predominantly plant-based with low amounts of refined grains, animal-based foods, highly processed foods or added sugars. The planetary health diet is divided into three areas, and within these areas further sub-categories:
• Emphasised Foods: Fish, vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains and nuts.
• Optional Foods: Eggs, poultry and dairy foods.
• Limited Intake: Starchy vegetables and red meat.
The intake ranges of foods with the planetary health diet aim to account for variations in food types, agricultural systems, cultural traditions and individual dietary preferences. The recommendations are thought to deliver on both nutrition and environmental sustainability. For nutrition, the detailed dietary pattern would improve the intake of most nutrients and micronutrients. At the same time, this food production system required to support a healthy diet can occur within planetary boundaries in terms of land use, nutrients, freshwater, biodiversity loss and climate change.
The planetary health plate largely consists of vegetables and fruits, with a recommended 300 and 200g/day respectively. By volume this would account for approximately half the amount of food on the plate. This is followed by whole grains (rice, wheat and corn), with a recommended 232g/day and dairy foods (eg, whole milk) with a recommended 250g/day. Hence, by volume, the second half of the plate should consist of whole grains, plant-based proteins, unsaturated plant-based fats oils, and on occasion small amounts of animal-based protein.
Even though the planetary health plate is designed as a global target, it will vary at a country level to account for the eating habits, food production systems and waste production of each country. For example, countries in North America consume nearly 6.5 times the recommended amount of red meat, whereas countries in South Asia consume only half of the recommended amount. Therefore, the action required by these countries to deliver healthy diets from a sustainable food production system will be different.
However, to feed an ever growing population, which is estimated to be 10 billion by 2050, more than just a change in eating habits is required. Therefore, the report also stresses the need for a paralleled transformation in food production systems and a reduction of food waste. The EAT-Lancet Commission has thus detailed required changes to establish sustainable food production systems. These include:
- Decarbonise agricultural production by eliminating the use of fossil fuels and land use change.
- Prevent zero loss of biodiversity.
- Achieve net zero expansion of agricultural land into natural ecosystems.
- Improve water use efficiencies.
As such, there is a need for the implementation of strategies focused on establishing sustainable food production systems. The EAT-Lancet Commission has developed five strategies to drive a transformation in our food systems. In addition to these strategies it is vital that collaboration occurs within communities and at government level to bring about these changes.
- Policies are required to encourage people to choose healthy diets via improving the availability and accessibility of healthy foods.
- There is a need for a greater production of varied nutrient-rich crops and the support of agricultural policies to endorse this in the way of incentives, programmes and research funding.
- Agriculture must be sustainably intensified using contextually appropriate practices to generate sustainable, high quality crops.
- Land and oceans must be governed effectively to protect the environment.
- It is imperative that food waste is reduced by half in all countries.