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EXPERT REACTION: Global food sustainability needed to avoid catastrophic damage to the planet

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An estimated 10 billion people will call the planet home by 2050 and we're likely to cause irrevocable damage if we do not transform the way we eat and produce food, and reduce our food waste, say international and Australian researchers. We will have to reduce our meat and sugar intake by around 50 per cent, they say, as well as doubling our intake of nuts, fruits, veggies and legumes. An attached editorial author adds that these changes will also address the urgent health issues associated with the current western diet, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Scroll down to see independent expert reactions to this study.

Journal/conference: The Lancet

DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31788-4

Organisation/s: CSIRO, EAT-Lancet Commission

Media Release

From: The Lancet

Peer-reviewed / Review, modelling, opinion

The Lancet: Diet and food production must radically change to improve health and avoid potentially catastrophic damage to the planet

  • Feeding a growing population of 10 billion people by 2050 with a healthy and sustainable diet will be impossible without transforming eating habits, improving food production, and reducing food waste. First scientific targets for a healthy diet that places healthy food consumption within the boundaries of our planet will require significant change, but are within reach.
  • The daily dietary pattern of a planetary health diet consists of approximately 35% of calories as whole grains and tubers, protein sources mainly from plants – but including approximately 14g of red meat per day – and 500g per day of vegetables and fruits.
  • Moving to this new dietary pattern will require global consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar to decrease by about 50%, while consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables, and legumes must double.
  • Unhealthy diets are the leading cause of ill-health worldwide and following the diet could avoid approximately 11 million premature deaths per year.
  • A shift towards the planetary health diet would ensure the global food system The diet can exists within planetary boundariess for food production such as those for climate change, biodiversity loss, land and freshwater use, as well as nutrient cycles.

Transformation of the global food system is urgently needed as more than 3 billion people are malnourished (including people who are undernourished and overnourished), and food production is exceeding planetary boundaries – driving climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution due to over-application of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers, and unsustainable changes in water and land use.

The findings are from the EAT-Lancet Commission which provides the first scientific targets for a healthy diet from a sustainable food production system that operates within planetary boundaries for food. The report promotes diets consisting of a variety of plant-based foods, with low amounts of animal-based foods, refined grains, highly processed foods, and added sugars, and with unsaturated rather than saturated fats.

Human diets inextricably link health and environmental sustainability, and have the potential to nurture both. However, current diets are pushing the Earth beyond its planetary boundaries, while causing ill health. This puts both people and the planet at risk. Providing healthy diets from sustainable food systems is an immediate challenge as the population continues to grow – projected to reach 10 billion people by 2050 – and get wealthier (with the expectation of higher consumption of animal-based foods).

To meet this challenge, dietary changes must be combined with improved food production and reduced food waste. The authors stress that unprecedented global collaboration and commitment will be needed, alongside immediate changes such as refocussing agriculture to produce varied nutrient-rich crops, and increased governance of land and ocean use.

“The food we eat and how we produce it determines the health of people and the planet, and we are currently getting this seriously wrong,” says one of the commission authors Professor Tim Lang, City, University of London, UK. “We need a significant overhaul, changing the global food system on a scale not seen before in ways appropriate to each country’s circumstances. While this is unchartered policy territory and these problems are not easily fixed, this goal is within reach and there are opportunities to adapt international, local and business policies. The scientific targets we have devised for a healthy, sustainable diet are an important foundation which will underpin and drive this change.” [1]

The Commission is a 3-year project that brings together 37 experts from 16 countries with expertise in health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, food systems, economics and political governance.

Scientific targets for a healthy diet – the planetary health diet
Despite increased food production contributing to improved life expectancy and reductions in hunger, infant and child mortality rates, and global poverty over the past 50 years, these benefits are now being offset by global shifts towards unhealthy diets high in calories, sugar, refined starches and animal-based foods and low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and fish.

The authors argue that the lack of scientific targets for a healthy diet have hindered efforts to transform the food system. Based on the best available evidence, the Commission proposes a dietary pattern that meets nutritional requirements, promotes health, and allows the world to stay within planetary boundaries.

Compared with current diets, global adoption of the new recommendations by 2050 will require global consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar to decrease by more than 50%, while consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables, and legumes must increase more than two-fold. Global targets will need to be applied locally – for example, countries in North America eat almost 6.5 times the recommended amount of red meat, while countries in South Asia eat only half the recommended amount. All countries are eating more starchy vegetables (potatoes and cassava) than recommended with intakes ranging from between 1.5 times above the recommendation in South Asia and by 7.5 times in sub-Saharan Africa.

“The world’s diets must change dramatically. More than 800 million people have insufficient food, while many more consume an unhealthy diet that contributes to premature death and disease,” says co-lead Commissioner Dr Walter Willett, Harvard University, USA. “To be healthy, diets must have an appropriate calorie intake and consist of a variety of plant-based foods, low amounts of animal-based foods, unsaturated rather than saturated fats, and few refined grains, highly processed foods, and added sugars. The food group intake ranges that we suggest allow flexibility to accommodate various food types, agricultural systems, cultural traditions, and individual dietary preferences – including numerous omnivore, vegetarian, and vegan diets.” [1]

Based on a 2,500 kcal/day diet [2], the dietary targets consist of a daily combined intake of:

Food groupMacronutrient intake range (grams/day), ranges includedCalorie intake (kcal/day)

Major carbohydrate sources – 0-60% of energy

  

Whole grains (such as rice, wheat, corn), dry

232 grams (adjusted to meet energy target)

811

Starchy vegetables (potatoes and cassava)

50 (0-100) grams

39

Protein – around 15% of energy intake

  

Beef or lamb

7 (0-14) grams

15
Pork

7 (0-14) grams

15
Poultry29 (0-58) grams62
Eggs13 (0-25) grams (about 1.5 eggs per week)19
Fish (including shellfish)28 (0-100) grams40
Dry beans, lentils or peas50 (0-100) grams172
Soy foods, dry25 (0-50) grams112
Peanuts

25 (0-75) grams

142
Tree nuts25 (0-75) grams149
Dairy (whole milk and dairy products, such as cheese)250 (0-500) grams153
Fruit and vegetables  
Vegetables300 (200-600) grams, including 100 grams of dark green vegetables, 100 grams red and orange vegetables, and 100 grams of other vegetables

23 - Dark green vegetables

30 - Red and orange vegetables

25 - Other vegetables

Fruit200 (100-300) grams 
Added fats  
Palm oil6.8 (0-6.8) grams60
Unsaturated oils (olive, soybean, rapeseed, sunflower, and peanut oil)40 (20-80) grams354
Dairy fats (such as butter)0 grams0
Added sugars  
All sweeteners31 (0-31) grams120

The authors estimate that widespread adoption of such a diet would improve intakes of most nutrients – increasing intake of healthy mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids and reducing consumption of unhealthy saturated fats. It would also increase essential micronutrient intake (such as iron, zinc, folate, and vitamin A, as well as calcium in low-income countries), except for vitamin B12 where supplementation or fortification might be necessary in some circumstances.

They also modelled the potential effects of global adoption of the diet on deaths from diet-related diseases. Three models each showed major health benefits, suggesting that adopting the new diet globally could avert between 10.9-11.6 million premature deaths per year – reducing adult deaths by between 19-23.6%.

The authors highlight that evidence about diet, human health, and environmental sustainability is continually evolving and includes uncertainty, so they include ranges in their estimates, but are confident of the overall picture. Professor Lang says: “While major transformations to the food system occurred in China, Brazil, Vietnam, and Finland in the 20th century, and illustrate that diets can change rapidly, humanity has never aimed to change the food system this radically at such speed or scale. People might warn of unintended consequences or argue that the case for action is premature, however, the evidence is sufficient and strong enough to warrant action, and any delay will increase the likelihood of not achieving crucial health and climate goals.” [1]

Food sustainability
Since the mid-1950s, the pace and scale of environmental change has grown exponentially. Food production is the largest source of environmental degradation. To be sustainable, food production must occur within food-related planetary boundaries for climate change, biodiversity loss, land and water use, as well as for nitrogen and phosphorus cycles. However, production must also be sustainably intensified to meet the global population’s growing food demands.

This will require decarbonising agricultural production by eliminating the use of fossil fuels and land use change losses of CO2 in agriculture. In addition, zero loss of biodiversity, net zero expansion of agricultural land into natural ecosystems, and drastic improvements in fertiliser and water use efficiencies are needed.

The authors estimate the minimum, unavoidable emissions of greenhouse gases if we are to provide healthy food for 10 billion people by 2050 [3]. They conclude that non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions of methane and nitrous oxide [4] will remain between 4.7-5.4 gigatonnes in 2050, with current emissions already at an estimated 5.2 gigatonnes in 2010. This suggests that the decarbonisation of the world energy system must progress faster than anticipated, to accommodate the need to healthily feed humans without further damaging the planet.

Phosphorus use must also be reduced (from 17.9 to between 6-16 teragrams), as must biodiversity loss (from 100 to between 1-80 extinctions per million species each year).

Based on their estimates, current levels of nitrogen, land and water use may be within the projected 2050 boundary (from 131.8 teragrams in 2010 to between 65-140 in 2050, from 12.6 M km2 in 2010 vs 11-15 M km2 in 2050, and from 1.8 M km3 in 2010 vs 1-4 M km3, respectively) but will require continued efforts to sustain this level. The boundary estimates are subject to uncertainty, and will require continuous update and refinement.

Using these boundary targets, the authors modelled various scenarios to develop a sustainable food system and deliver healthy diets by 2050. To stay within planetary boundaries, a combination of major dietary change, improved food production through enhanced agriculture and technology changes [5], and reduced food waste during production and at the point of consumption will be needed, and no single measure is enough to stay within all of the limits.

"Designing and operationalising sustainable food systems that can deliver healthy diets for a growing and wealthier world population presents a formidable challenge. Nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution. The good news is that it is not only doable, we have increasing evidence that it can be achieved through sustainable intensification that benefits both farmer, consumer and planet,” says co-lead Commissioner Professor Johan Rockström, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden and Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany. [1]

"Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet. Sustainability of the food system must therefore be defined from a planetary perspective. Five key environmental processes regulate the state of the planet. Our definition of sustainable food production requires that we use no additional land, safeguard existing biodiversity, reduce consumptive water use and manage water responsibly, substantially reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, produce zero carbon dioxide emissions, and cause no further increase in methane and nitrous oxide emissions. There is no silver bullet for combatting harmful food production practices, but by defining and quantifying a safe operating space for food systems, diets can be identified that will nurture human health and support environmental sustainability.” Professor Rockström continues.

Transforming the global food system
The Commission proposes five strategies to adjust what people eat and how it is produced.

Firstly, policies to encourage people to choose healthy diets are needed, including improving availability and accessibility to healthy food through improved logistics and storage, increased food security, and policies that promote buying from sustainable sources. Alongside advertising restrictions and education campaigns, affordability is also crucial, and food prices must reflect production and environmental costs. As this may increase costs to consumers, social protection for vulnerable groups may be required to avoid continued poor nutrition in low-income groups.

Strategies to refocus agriculture from producing high volumes of crops to producing varied nutrient-rich crops are needed. Currently, small and medium farms supply more than 50% of the essential nutrients in the global food supply. Global agriculture policies should incentivise producers to grow nutritious, plant-based foods, develop programmes that support diverse production systems, and increase research funding for ways to increase nutrition and sustainability. In some contexts, animal farming is important to nutrition and the ecosystem and the benefits and risks of animal farming should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Sustainably intensifying agriculture will also be key, and must take into account local conditions to help apply appropriate agricultural practices and generate sustainable, high quality crops.

Equally, effective governance of land and ocean use will be important to preserve natural ecosystems and ensure continued food supplies. This could be achieved through protecting intact natural areas on land (potentially through incentives), prohibiting land clearing, restoring degraded land, removing harmful fishing subsidies, and closing at least 10% of marine areas to fishing (including the high seas to create fish banks).

Lastly, food waste must be at least halved. The majority of food waste occurs in low- and middle-income countries during food production due to poor harvest planning, lack of access to markets preventing produce from being sold, and lack of infrastructure to store and process foods. Improved investment in technology and education for farmers is needed. Food waste is also an issue in high-income countries, where it is primarily caused by consumers and can be resolved through campaigns to improve shopping habits, help understand ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates, and improve food storage, preparation, portion sizes and use of leftovers.

Dr Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief at The Lancet, says: “Poor nutrition is a key driver and risk factor for disease. However, there has been a global failure to address this. It is everyone’s and no-one’s problem.”

He continues: “The transformation that this Commission calls for is not superficial or simple, and requires a focus on complex systems, incentives, and regulations, with communities and governments at multiple levels having a part to play in redefining how we eat. Our connection with nature holds the answer, and if we can eat in a way that works for our planet as well as our bodies, the natural balance of the planet’s resources will be restored. The very nature that is disappearing holds the key to human and planetary survival.”

The EAT-Lancet Commission is one of several reports on nutrition being published by The Lancet in 2019. The next Commission – The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition, and Climate Change – will publish later this month.

Attachments:

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    Food-production_LANCET_release.docx, 24.3 KB
  • The Lancet
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Expert Reaction

These comments have been collated by the Science Media Centre to provide a variety of expert perspectives on this issue. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Views expressed are the personal opinions of the experts named. They do not represent the views of the SMC or any other organisation unless specifically stated.

Dr Alison Van Eenennaam is a Cooperative Extension Specialist in the Department of Animal Science at the University of California, Davis

There seems to have been very little consultation by the EAT-LANCET group with agricultural scientists who understand the sustainability tradeoffs that would be associated with of some of their main dietary recommendations.

Although it may seem like switching to a diet with less red meat and more fruits, fish and milk should be desirable from an environmental perspective, it may actually exacerbate climate change due to the relatively high energy and water use per calorie of these food products.

There is no one sustainable diet, and depending upon the question that is being asked (e.g. carbon emissions/water use/land use/energy use per calorie/unit weight/unit protein/unit nutrient), different food products will look like the “most sustainable” choice. Often there are direct conflicts between what is perceived as the most sustainable production system depending upon the metric that is being given priority.

Last updated: 21 Jan 2019 10:42am
Declared conflicts of interest:
None.
Professor John Cole is the Executive Director of the Institute of Resilient Regions at the University of Southern Queensland and is an Honorary Professor at the UQ Business School

If by 2050 humanity is not to eat itself and the planet to death, the multinational expert Lancet Commission on food, health and sustainability finds there will need to be a ‘Great Food Transformation’ in production and consumption.

For Australian farmers this represents a major opportunity to steer production toward emerging healthy foods markets internationally while boosting the resource efficiency of our agricultural system.

For the nation’s health care community, it means we have to be smarter in battling the causes of obesity and poor diet – the principal sources of non-communicable disease – and in engaging people in taking better care of themselves.

For Federal, State and Local Government it demands far better natural resource and development governance, much more transparent emphasis on sustainability and an end to fudging in the trade-offs between economics and environment.

For Australians generally, like much of the global community, it begs attitudinal and behavioural change away from ‘lose-lose diets’ to acceptance of personal responsibility for the environmental and health impacts embedded in our consumption.

By the Commission’s own admission this is a challenge so enormous, demanding change on such a scale that it is in “uncharted territory”.  

The Great Food Transformation will not meet with success even partly without stronger coordination of public policy, massive food science and technology innovation from farm to plate and without consumers informed and motivated sufficiently to modify their diets. 

It’s a massive ask, but the stakes have never been greater and are global and inter-generational in their magnitude.

Last updated: 17 Jan 2019 1:27pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Prof Katie Allen is Director of the NHMRC Centre of Food and Allergy Research at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Royal Children’s Hospital and the University of Melbourne

The Lancet Commission on Health Diets from Sustainable Food Systems is an urgent call to action to systematically address a range of interconnected issues with food security and sustainability firmly at the centre. The world is now an inter-connected global food bowl and we need to take collective responsibility for ensuring that everyone has safe access to nutritious food and a clean water supply. By bringing together international experts across diverse disciplines and sectors the Commission has framed an action plan that is both practicable and positive about the future. It argues for both personal responsibility and government action and outlines a vision for a future that transforms the way we address the urgent issues of climate change, biodiversity loss, land-system use and nitrogen and phosphorus flows. This Commission is both a road map for a sustainable future but also a legacy for generations to come.

The Lancet Commission has provided clear guidelines that we need to halve the amount of red meat we are eating and double the amount of nuts and legumes. This Great Food Transformation recommendation provides a tangible way to help ensure parents given their children a healthy start to life but has the added benefit of decreasing the impact of agricultural production on climate change. Recent protests by school children demonstrate that the next generation care deeply about our planet and so should we.

Last updated: 17 Jan 2019 11:01am
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Emeritus Professor Mark Wahlqvist is former Professor and Head of Medicine at Prince Henry’s Hospital and Monash Medical Centre, Associate Dean (International Health and Development) and Director of the Asia Pacific Health and Nutrition Centre

 The EAT-Lancet Commission which seeks to enshrine sustainable and healthy eating in guidelines to save a habitable planet is most welcome, as time runs short with accelerating climate change.

Fortunately, and encouragingly, it builds on a growing emphasis on plant-based diets in national and international dietary guidelines, which are sustainability -orientated, wittingly or not. However, some recommendations need greater emphasis, like the more use of legumes and tree crops, along with local support for ecologically-sensitive food production and nature -engaging healthy habits.

Ethical and equity nutritional dilemmas   are emerging, however where desirable foodstuffs like seafood are contaminated with microplastic and fermented dairy products add to the dependency on ruminant animals which add to the methane load on the atmosphere. These may be prioritised for novel green technology.

Above all, concerted community actions and international accord for policies such as EAT encourage are now critical.

 

Last updated: 17 Jan 2019 10:59am
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.

Professor Ros Gleadow is head of plant sciences from the School of Biological Sciences at Monash University

Back in the 1960s, when the Green Revolution started, the need was to provide calories for a starving world. Today, food is cheap. But it comes at great environmental cost. 

Climate change and the need to feed an ever-growing world population in a healthy way without ruining the natural environment are inextricably linked. It's hard to see how to solve such 'wicked problems'. The authors show that a dramatic change in the human diet could make a huge difference.

Why would changing human diets to be primarily plant-based help? 

We know in the business world that cutting out the 'middle (wo)man' cuts costs. It's the same with food. It is much more efficient for us to eat the plants, rather than eat the animals that have eaten the plants. Energy is lost along the way.

Rising carbon dioxide not only changes the climate. It also makes plants more efficient at absorbing carbon dioxide. Rather than just growing more, most plants also downsize their photosynthetic machinery, which is made of protein. When a cow eats grass, it's getting its protein from the photosynthetic machinery in the leaves. Less protein means that more land will be required to support each cow or lamb or whatever. Grains also end up with less protein - you won't be able to make a decent loaf of bread in 50 years time, unless we act now to reduce carbon emissions, because the protein levels will be too low.


Traditional plant breeding, genetic engineering and advances in digital agricultural technologies will help but are now too slow. Put simply, the balance between plants and animals on the planet is wrong. Plants use up carbon dioxide in the process of photosynthesis; animals release it back again. 

I've been trying to get the message out about climate change and the negative effect on the nutritional value of plants for over 20 years. It's really good to see this aspect incorporated into the modelling presented here. By 2050, eucalypt leaves may not have enough protein to support koalas simply as a result of the higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The levels of naturally occurring toxic cyanide will increase in cassava, with climate change increasing the risk of poisoning, death and paralysis in the people who depend on it for their calories. Micronutrient levels also decrease, potentially making micronutrient deficiencies worse.

These are big targets, but we have to start somewhere.

Last updated: 17 Jan 2019 10:53am
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Professor Justin Borevitz is a Chief Investigator at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology's ANU node, and is the Leader of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility's High Resolution Plant Phenomcis Centre ANU node.

This comprehensive synthesis is one of the first to unite human and environmental health projections for the world. Currently parts of humanity are both over and under nourished, while the agricultural system has both over production with environmental costs or yield gaps with mere subsistence.   This study looks at healthy diets and how they can be produced for a larger and more affluent population. A balance both demand and supply is necessary and just possible but dramatic shifts in trends are needed. The conclusions are quantitative across a range of future scenarios and generally increase plant diversity (including N fixing legumes) with diets lower on the food chain (fewer animal products). The challenges are largely social and solutions have some flexibility, eg not absolute vegan, but lower meat and processed foods with more greens and grains and beans.  They outline a globally sustainable and healthy diet as a benchmark for the food system to adjust toward to dissuade critiques from certain food sectors. Limiting agriculture land expansion and restoration of degraded land is critical to environmental sustainability. Reducing food waste post consumption in the developed world and post production in the developing world is also key to meeting the challenges.

One omission from summary but included in paper is that of crop land being u)sed bioenergy and carbon capture and storage. This has and will have, a growing demand on land use to stabilize climate to +2C and even more so for +1.5C. Figure 2 shows how global agriculture must shift from emissions (CO2e to draw down into soils later this century. Critically this transition needs to begin in the 2020s for the effects to be realized as (agro)ecosystems mature.   

One option for further consideration in light of large increases in demand for lower yielding legumes and fruits and nut trees is to intercrop them via agroforestry. Together they could yield more than the sum of their parts. 

Last updated: 16 Jan 2019 4:54pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Ian Lowe is Emeritus professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University, Qld and former President of the Australian Conservation Foundation.

This important study addresses the two critical issues for food production: sustainable use of resources and improving community health. It correctly finds that feeding the growing world population will prove impossible unless we modify both eating habits and food production. More than 800 million people don’t get enough food, while unhealthy diets are a major cause of ill-health in Australia.

The first national report on the state of the environment pointed out, more than twenty years ago, that productive land is being degraded in Australia, while runoff of nutrients and sediment from primary production is a serious threat to the Great Barrier Reef. Two-thirds of adults in this country are now overweight or obese, a consequence of successive governments tolerating proliferation of highly processed foods and unhealthy consumption of added sugars.

We have known for decades that a healthy diet would involve increased consumption of fruit, vegetables, nuts and legumes, with dramatically reduced levels of red meat and sugar. Such a diet would also be more environmentally responsible. This report is a reminder of the urgency of changing government policies to promote both healthy diets and responsible food production. It is no exaggeration to say millions will needlessly suffer and die if the warnings are ignored.

Last updated: 16 Jan 2019 4:53pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Dr Sonia Nuttman is an Associate Lecturer in the School of Health and Social Development at Deakin University

Imagine coming home to dinner after a long at work but your family announce there is nothing to eat for dinner… again. Well, nothing decent anyway.

You are hungry, your kids are hungry, food is expensive and climate change is making it more difficult for farmers to grow food. The news reports another drought year (20 years to-date), the Murry-Darling has dried up and water desalination plants are struggling to keep up with demand.

Food insecurity in Australia is predicted to escalate - currently, two million Australians report being food insecure - unless the current food system changes – the way food is produced, western diets, and food waste practices are a few examples. The significance of this issue can be compared to the climate emergency.

If we are to feed a growing global population of 9.8 billion by 2050, a planetary health diet is being advocated which protects the health of people and the planet. A planetary health diet is anticipated to alleviate the considerable environmental damage currently being inflicted on the planet, but also improve the health of billions.

Worldwide, a chronic disease epidemic (cancer, cardiovascular heart disease, and obesity) are significant issues burdening health care systems. A planetary health approach could begin by shifting consumption patterns, such as increasing vegetable, legume, fruit and nut consumption and reducing meat, dairy and sugar.

An impossible feat? Maybe, but we don’t have many straightforward alternatives - the health of our planet and future populations depend on it.

Last updated: 16 Jan 2019 4:01pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Distinguished Professor Bill Laurance is from James Cook University (JCU)

Food security is probably going to be the number 1 global challenge this century, and this paper hits some of the key challenges right on the head.  But I have some caveats.

The authors correctly emphasise that changing human diets to reduce excess meat consumption -especially in wealthy nations - would not only have great environmental benefits, but would also markedly improve human health.  However, campaigns to reduce meat consumption need to stress their health benefits more than anything else, as those will be most effective.  Experience has shown that, realistically, few people will avoid hamburgers to save rainforests.

Beyond this, food production is overwhelmingly the biggest human land-use: we presently farm an area the size of South America, and graze an area the size of Africa. If we don’t amp-up agriculture, by making it more productive on a per-hectare basis, we’ll soon need a further expanse of land the size of Canada to meet global food demand.  The environmental impacts of achieving this - not to mention its financial, social, and political costs - would be enormous.  Fortunately, there is great scope to improve agricultural productivity in much of the world.
 
Food waste could be reduced dramatically by some fairly simple social tweaks, and by improving roads between farming areas and urban food markets to reduce food spoilage.  But we need to build roads in the right places to avoid devastating nature.  Right now we are building roads across the planet in the most chaotic manner imaginable, devastating many of the world’s last wild areas.
 
It’s remarkable that many issues revolving around global food security could be addressed in ways that pay great dividends for humanity.  But we need to get smarter, because right now we’re doing a lot of things poorly.

Last updated: 16 Jan 2019 4:00pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Dr Evangeline Mantzioris is the Program Director of Nutrition and Food sciences at the University of South Australia.

The typical and dominant diet consumed by the majority of the global population is mainly animal-based, low in plants, and high in processed foods, which is contributing to chronic lifestyle diseases (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity). It is also a major contributor to climate change and accelerating the erosion of our natural biodiversity. Overall, the global food system currently has one billion people not getting enough food, while two billion are over-eating. It is easy to see, as this report has found, that the balance between providing healthy food to all whilst balancing the Earth’s resources has failed and will lead to the demise of humanity on Earth.

The dietary pattern that is recommended to meet Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change is low in animal products, with a reduction in red meat intake to 14g/day, and largely plant-based, with a 100 per cent increase in intake of legumes, nuts, vegetables and fruit. Additionally, it is low in saturated fat, refined grains, processed foods and added sugar. The focus on reductions in red meat (beef and lamb) is justified as red meat is the greatest contributor to climate change.

This dietary pattern for sustainable food systems has been promoted for many years globally to reduce the risk of death from chronic diseases. In Australia, it is the Australian Dietary Guidelines (ADG). While meat does feature in the ADG, it is grouped as an option alongside nuts, seed and legumes/beans. Globally, most dietary guidelines reflect this same pattern. The Mediterranean Diet, which is evidence-backed for a range of favourable health outcomes, is also a low-animal, high-plant-based diet which is minimal in saturated fats and processed foods. This dietary pattern for sustainable food systems is not new - as nutritionists and dietitians, we have been promoting it for a long time. As it happens, the dietary pattern that is best for human health is also best for the environment - they are aligned and are the best dietary pattern for humanity.

Another key aspect of the Great Food Transformation is to reduce food waste at all points across the food chain, with the consumer being responsible for a greater percentage of food waste. For this, greater education will be needed about food storage, improved planning of food shopping, education on use-by and best-before dates, and improved knowledge in use of left-overs.

Last updated: 16 Jan 2019 3:58pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Emeritus Professor Brian Morris AM is from the School of Medical Sciences and Bosch Institute at the University of Sydney

This is probably the most important report ever produced. And it is published in the world’s top medical journal with a bevvy of authors from major institutions worldwide.

The problems highlighted affect everyone on planet Earth, as well as future generations. Not complying with the recommendations will spell doom for our planet.

The report adds strength he the United Nations 'Sustainable Development Goals' and the Paris Agreement on addressing climate change.

The report identifies red meat at a major cause of carbon dioxide emissions and thus global warming, and recommends people eat no meat or at least 50 per cent less. Instead, a doubling of intake of healthy vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts and unsaturated oils is recommended, perhaps with sustainable seafood as well. The report states that this diet will be a 'WIN-WIN' for health and the planet.

With approx. 10 million people dying each year from preventable diseases caused by bad diet, lives will be saved.

This is a wake-up call for all governments worldwide, including Australia. 

I recommend a task force to address current agricultural practices in Australia and take measures to align them with the report’s recommendations.

Those measures should include education and legislation …. A ‘nudge’, and a sledge hammer if necessary.

The issue is far too important for our politicians to sit on their hands while giving free reign to unsustainable farming practices devoted to producing food which is damaging to health, and to the mass production of processed food by the food industry.

This is, in effect, a DOOMSDAY REPORT.

Last updated: 16 Jan 2019 3:56pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Professor John Evans is a leader plant researcher at ANU and chief investigator at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis

The human population continues to expand and global food production must increase to ensure good health. [In this study] Willett et al. propose a healthy reference diet which imposes less environmental damage on the planet and, if equitably adopted, would foster improved health.

The challenge of limiting global population to reduce pressure on the Earth’s ecosystems both directly and indirectly is not addressed. The most dramatic change they propose to our diet is the substantial reduction in red meat consumption, substituting proteins from plants (e.g. chickpeas and dry beans, pulses) and consuming carbohydrates as whole grains rather than refined products.

The arguments in support of reduced red meat consumption are the environmental costs associated with farming pigs and cattle and the health risks associated with meat consumption. Global production of animal and plant proteins has changed dramatically since 1960. Production of chicken per capita has risen seven-fold, two-fold for pigs, while surprisingly, cattle production per capita has been rather stable. There was a fall in the production of plant protein crops (pulses) until the last decade, when it began to increase again.

To meet the global need from the reference diet, production of pulse crops would need to more than double. Australia currently exports two million tonnes of chickpeas (worth $1.9B in 2016/17) and could increase its production. Australia also exports significant amounts beef and lamb (worth $7.4B and $2.4B in 2016/17, respectively), so any rebalancing of diet would have a major impact on farmers.

In terms of cereals, Australia is a major wheat exporter (22 million tonnes worth $6.1B in 2016/17). The Nobel laureate Noman Borlaug promoted the ‘Green Revolution’ in the 1960s, which combined the introduction of dwarfing genes and disease resistance with high input agronomy and lead to massive increases in cereal production. Large scale famine in the late 1950s was averted and human population has more than doubled. Cereal production per capita has been remarkably stable since the 1980s apart from the recent rise in maize production used to feed animals. The stable per capita production has required enormous efforts in breeding, improved agronomy and the use of fertilisers and irrigation to keep pace with population growth.

Willett et al. highlight the need to use fertiliser and water in ways that minimise environmental damage, while acknowledging that plant growth requires these inputs. Australian agriculture and farmers regularly face the challenge of producing crops with limited water, and researchers are actively seeking ways to increase crop yield through more efficient use of water and nutrients. Australian farmers have largely adopted no till farming to preserve our fragile soils, and this relies on the use of herbicides.

Gene editing is a rapidly advancing technology that will be needed to provide improved plant varieties. Australia has recently released a canola variety that produces the healthy omega 3 oil that was created through genetic engineering. This type of canola oil fits nicely into the Healthy Reference Diet, which suggests a considerable intake of unsaturated plant oils rather than animal fats. Future agriculture will need to continue to use all technologies to produce enough food on the minimum amount of land.

Last updated: 16 Jan 2019 3:42pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Dr. Matthew Ruby is a Lecturer in Psychology at La Trobe University.

It’s exciting to see such a detailed approach to addressing both environmental sustainability and human health, as these issues are often discussed in isolation. The authors are forthcoming about the unavoidable uncertainty that underpins their calculations, and remain open to integrating other protein sources that are currently under study, such as blue-green algae and insects. The EAT-Lancet Commission’s recommendation for a global shift to a predominantly plant-based diet is highly ambitious, and will require a great deal of cooperation between consumers, producers, and policy-makers.

That said, I think there’s good cause to be optimistic, as the recommendations allow a range of diets, from vegan through to flexitarian, and can easily be translated into culturally appropriate food choices. As the authors point out, many traditional diets, such as those in Mexico and India, consist largely of plant-based food and only small amounts of animal products.  At the same time, there is a steady stream of innovations in plant-based products and cuisine, making it even easier for people to follow healthy and sustainable diets while continuing to enjoy their food.

Last updated: 16 Jan 2019 3:41pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Professor Christine Parker is from the Melbourne Law School at the University of Melbourne

The report published today in the Lancet on 'Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets for Sustainable Food Systems' has important implications for Australia's dietary guidelines and healthy eating policies. The report shows that a healthy diet can and should be an environmentally-sustainable diet.

Governments, schools, universities, hospitals and other institutions should urgently update their dietary guidelines and healthy eating policies to include environmental considerations.

This means encouraging a greater proportion of the diet from plant-based foods, lesser consumption of sugar and red meat and avoidance of food waste. These measures can address common causes and harness synergistic solutions for a healthy sustainable food system.

Clear dietary guidelines can help guide effective specific legal and policy solutions such as labelling, taxes, and restrictions on advertising of some products.

Last updated: 16 Jan 2019 3:39pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Professor Clare Collins is a NHMRC Senior Research Fellow, Director of Research in the School of Health Sciences, and Acting Director of Priority Research Centre in Physical Activity & Nutrition at The University of Newcastle

Currently, unhealthy eating patterns are a greater risk factor for chronic disease and premature death than drugs, alcohol and smoking combined. The world gets a ‘fail’ in terms of how current approaches to feeding people do not optimise health of people or the planet. This paper provides a welcome discussion that spotlights the world triple threat of obesity, undernutrition and climate change, and highlights that we face a triple challenge to fix the global food system. Poor nutrition affects every aspect of our world, from the health and well-being of individuals to the health and viability of our planet. It is excellent to see scientific targets for a healthy diet that could improve food systems, while also nurturing the planet.

There has been a shift in eating patterns away from basic food groups to a dominance of hyper-palatable ultra-processed foods that use a lot of resources to produce. Improving nutrition has the potential to avert around 11 million premature deaths per year-and also allow people to live more years with better health. 

But this paper calls for a broad focus on the impact that poor nutrition has on the whole planet not specific individuals. This paper clearly outlines a strong case for action and call for all countries to act together, and to start now.

This analysis is led by a strong group of international experts across 16 countries. Within countries, there is a need to increase intakes particularly of plant sources of protein and vegetables and reduce intakes of red-meat (and nutrient-poor, ultra-processed foods).

But it is not just a decrease in meat intakes - we also need a global re-distribution. 800 million people don’t have enough to eat while ‘billions’ carry excess weight. For many lower- and middle-income countries there is a need to increase intakes of red meat in order to reduce undernutrition and conditions such as anaemia.  

It is not a panacea, and vulnerable population and groups have higher requirement for nutrients including vitamin B12, iron and zinc, such as pregnant women, infants, children and the elderly.

We need to take care that the world does not make the mistake of creating a new wave of ultra-processed plant food, under the guise of reducing food waste or saving the planet. The recommendation for planetary diets encourage consuming a variety of plant based foods, including higher intakes of legumes, nuts, vegetables and fruits. 

Global collaboration and leadership is noble, but will require buy-in from governments to deliver policy changes to support this, but also support from manufacturers.

We need policies that help people to choose healthy foods, including improved availability, access and food security, and that are underpinned by sustainable food sources and suppliers, that achieve a reduction in food waste, while protecting precious environmental resources on land and sea.

Last updated: 16 Jan 2019 3:35pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Professor John Boland is from the School of Information Technology and Mathematical Sciences at the University of South Australia (UniSA)

An ecological footprint (EF) estimation was performed in 2008 for the Lochiel Park Green Village northeast of Adelaide’s CBD. 

An EF estimates the amount of land it would take to supply all the needs of a precinct’s inhabitants if those needs were provided via renewable resources only. Rules placed on this development focused on reduction of external energy use. These included building thermal performance meeting 7.5 stars out of 10, instead of the required 6 stars, and 1 kW of photovoltaic cells per 100 sq. m. of living space.

The energy initiatives were predicted to lower the EF by 10 per cent compared to other South Australians. These predictions have been borne out by subsequent analysis. An extra initiative was evaluated, that of the hypothetical situation of all residents adopting a healthy diet in line with the recommendations of the NHMRC. When this was added to the estimation, the EF reduction was 17.6 per cent. The extra reduction comes from lower energy and land use, as well as lowering greenhouse gas emissions, in line with the findings of The Lancet study. The reduction in EF was almost as significant from an alteration in diet as from major initiatives for lowering energy use.

Last updated: 16 Jan 2019 3:31pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Associate Professor Stewart Walker is from the school of Forensic, Environmental and Analytical Chemistry at Flinders University

For many, the proposed sustainable diet would represent a dramatic change with much less meat and much more fruit, veggies and nuts.
 
Coupling the effects on the environment and the deleterious effects bad diets (from the extreme fatty and sweet diets leading to obesity and heart disease to those deficient in nutrition) could have on our Earth over the next thirty years justifies the authors proposed revamp of our global diets.
 
For many, who are currently consuming more than 700 per cent of the new recommended dietary intake of red meat, this diet will be like a red flag to a bull.  Coupling this to a drastically reduced sugar intake would make this a bitter pill to swallow. 
 
[In the study] Table 4, 'Environmental effects per serving of food produced', illustrates just how demanding meat and dairy is in terms of greenhouse gases, land use, energy use, acidification and eutrophication potential compared to the vegetarian or vegan options.  

In addition to the proposals outlined it should be recognised that much is already being done to improve the world's food production and consumption, and steps are being taken to optimise food production (taking account of climate alterations), reduce food waste (much product is rotting in the fields because of inefficient transport and storage facilities) and food donation schemes are being put in place to recycle almost out-of-date food that would otherwise have gone to waste, and ensure that the global population has access to sufficient clean water and nutritious food (UN Sustainability Development Goals).
If these are small steps, then the dietary changes proposed by this Lancet Commission is a giant leap.
 
How long before we see the first 'Great Food Transformation' diet book and a glut of 'GFT Cooking Shows'! And the first 'Great Food Transformation Denier'?

Last updated: 16 Jan 2019 3:29pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Dr Rosemary Stanton OAM, Nutritionist, Visiting Fellow, School of Medical Sciences, University of New South Wales

This analysis comes from 37 experts in 16 countries with expertise in health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, food systems, economics and political governance, and demonstrates that serious changes are needed to feed an increasing world population with a diet that’s both healthy and sustainable.
 
Reducing food waste and increasing food production won’t be enough to provide a sustainable diet on a global level. We also need to transform eating habits.
 
Bodies responsible for health, transport, agriculture and environment, trade, and education will need to work together. The urgency of the task is because climate change is driven by food production (which is responsible for up to 30 per cent of global greenhouse-gas emissions and 70 per cent of freshwater use).
 
The report concentrates on food patterns and recognises these differ in various regions of the world. Suggestions therefore accommodate omnivorous, vegetarian or vegan diets, giving a range for recommended daily consumption of different foods.
 
Daily recommendations include: 200-600g of vegetables, 100-300g of fruit, 0-14g red meat 0-14g pork, 0-58g poultry, 0-100g fish (including shellfish), 0-100g dry beans, 0-75g tree nuts, 0-75g peanuts, 0-500g milk and milk products. Wholegrains are set at 230g/day, but can be adjusted to meet energy needs. Sugar is set at a maximum of 5 per cent of daily kilojoules.
 
Each recommendation comes with an extensive list of impressive references e.g. for meat: eight meta analyses, one review and 16 cohort studies.
 
The report also discusses producing animal protein by raising animals on grassland unsuited to crop production or using by-products arising from agricultural crops or food waste. These could make higher levels of intake possible in some areas, but much less than is consumed in most wealthy countries. Grass-fed beef is also included.

Last updated: 16 Jan 2019 3:27pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Professor Kadambot Siddique AM is a Hackett Professor of Agriculture Chair and Director at the University of Western Australia (UWA)

For centuries, people in Asia and Africa have grown and consumed a wide variety of nutritious foods. Unfortunately, more recent generations have slowly but surely changed their diets and have moved away from many of these traditional foods.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is working with Member Countries to reinvigorate both production and consumption of these crops – often referred to as neglected and underutilized species (NUS).

To achieve the Zero Hunger goal, which is the aim of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2, dietary patterns and food systems need to be improved urgently. Stakeholders in the agriculture and the food value chain are affected by the disconnect between production, consumption and nutrition.

Countries are facing challenges associated with population growth and climate change. Agricultural diversification offers enormous opportunities for addressing hunger and malnutrition, especially in the context of climate change. In this regard, NUS (termed as Future Smart Food) offers diverse and nutritious food resources and agricultural resilience.

NUS are important in specific agro-ecological niches and are often linked with traditions and cultural heritage in their places of origin. They are an essential source of protein and micronutrients, and can enhance climate resilience, improve agriculture sustainability and boost household incomes and livelihoods with considerable commercial potential.

Last updated: 16 Jan 2019 3:24pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Dr Haydn Washington is from the PANGEA Research Centre at the University of New South Wales (UNSW)

The Lancet Commission report is of great importance for society. It clearly shows that food production is a threat to both human health and ecological sustainability. It is a wake-up call for change that comes up with five key strategies. I question its assertion that we can feed ten billion people in 2050 through these strategies (we need to aim to reduce population as well). However, it clearly identifies that current food production - and the Western diet - are not sustainable. Such a recognition is long overdue, and I welcome the focus on food production the report will generate.

Last updated: 16 Jan 2019 3:20pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Julian Cribb is an Australian science writer and author

A global food crisis is inevitable by the mid-21st Century, without radical change to the human diet and food production system, The Lancet has confirmed. The crisis will be driven by worldwide scarcities of water, topsoil and nutrients, combined with +2-3°C of global warming, loss of deltas and coastal lands and desertification. These are coupled with growing toxification of the food chain and collapsing agro-ecosystems. Though many are reluctant to acknowledge it, agriculture and fishing can no longer remain the mainstays of human nutrition which they were in the past as, at present scales, they are not sustainable and will destroy their own future.
 
The Lancet report sounds a timely warning of a crisis which is totally avoidable, provided governments and the food industry globally acknowledge its imminence and agree to act together to solve it. If we do not act now, my latest research shows, we face not only the likelihood of major famines, but also spreading wars over food, land and water.
 
Beyond changing the diet, we need also to evolve the entire global food system to one that is equally balanced between regenerative agriculture, aquaculture and urban food production using recycled water and nutrients in modern, climate-proof production systems. This will not only secure the world’s food supply, it will create a chance to end the Sixth Extinction by re-wilding up to half of the world’s present agricultural lands.
 
Furthermore a new world diet offers a chance to reduce the scourge of diet-related disease, which is now the primary killer in all societies. At present humans eat less than 1 per cent of the world’s edible food plant species – by expanding the range of crops we can dramatically improve both the sustainability and healthiness of the human food supply.
 
Such a far-reaching change to the world food system is totally affordable, provided we reinvest 20 per cent of the world’s present military budget ($1.8tr) in peace through food.

Last updated: 16 Jan 2019 3:20pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.

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