Earth could be saved through ‘dramatic change’ to our diets

Desiree Burns
January 23, 2019

An global panel has released the first scientific targets for healthy diets worldwide through sustainable food production that will require Indians to increase their protein consumption and curtail their intake of potatoes. "[This requires] nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution".

"It's not a blanket approach, but when you look at the data there are certain individuals or populations that don't need that much red meat for their own health", said Jessica Fanzo, a professor of food policy at Johns Hopkins University and a co-author of the report.

Under the new regimen, adults would be limited to 14 grammes of red meat a day - equivalent to half a rasher of bacon - and get no more than 30 calories from it.

The report also recommends that people eat just 29g of chicken each day, 250g of dairy (about one glass of milk) and just over one egg per week.

There should also be a 100% increase in consumption of healthy foods like nuts, fruits, vegetable and beans, they said. Globally, more than 820 million people remain undernourished and concurrently, prevalence of diseases associated with high-calorie, unhealthy diets are increasing, with 2.1 billion adults overweight or obese and the global prevalence of diabetes nearly doubling in the past 30 years.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand's Head of Nutrition, Fiona Greig, a registered nutritionist, says "We support a range of healthy dietary patterns with and without meat, however I have concerns that the suggested reduction could have implications for vulnerable groups especially young women who may already be suffering from nutrient deficiencies".

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At the same time, the global food system is the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the biggest driver of biodiversity loss and the main cause of deadly algae blooms along coasts and inland waterways. "We need a significant overhaul, changing the global food system on a scale not seen before in ways appropriate to each country's circumstances". Current UK Government guidelines suggest we should eat 70g of red meat a day, with average population intake in the UK now below this figure.

Levels of food waste would also have to be halved at least, said the experts.

A quarter-pounder burger patty contains roughly 450 calories and North Americans alone consume more than six times the current daily recommended red meat intake of between 50-70 grammes.

NFU vice president Stuart Roberts, however, said the global report needed to be looked at "through a local lens", and went on to defend the role of red meat within diets. It suggested that these new diets be in place by 2050 and that it might need to be applied locally, citing the example of countries in North America that eat nearly 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.

Today's meat-heavy diets could soon be a thing of the past, as experts say we need to shift away from guzzling meat and adopt a "planetary health diet" to safeguard Earth.

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