EAT-Lancet Commission Proposes Planetary Health Diet to Achieve SDGs and Paris Agreement
Peter Luethi, Biovision Foundation
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The EAT-Lancet Commission has released a report summarizing scientific evidence for a global food systems transition towards healthy diets from sustainable agriculture.

The report shows that a global shift towards a 'Planetary Health Diet' made up of high quantities of fruits, vegetables and plant-based protein and low quantities of animal protein, could catalyze the achievement of both the SDGs and Paris Agreement.

The study defines the health and planetary boundaries for a safe operating space for food systems and offers five strategies for achieving a global food systems transition within these boundaries.

17 January 2019: The EAT-Lancet commission, a group of more than 30 leading scientists on planetary sciences, agriculture and nutrition, has released its report on food planet health, including targets for healthy diets and sustainable food production, as well as five strategies to achieve planetary health diets for nearly 10 billion people by 2050.

The food we eat every day affects not only our health as individuals, but also the health of the planet since agriculture is one of the most important drivers of climate change, biodiversity loss, water use and other planetary impacts. A global food systems transformation towards diets that improve people’s health, while reducing agriculture’s impact on planetary systems could therefore generate significant contributions to achieving multiple SDGs and the objective of Paris Agreement on climate change. The EAT-Lancet commission brought together leading scientists in food production and nutrition to develop science-based targets for such a global food systems transition. Its report was released on 17 January 2019 in Oslo, Norway.

“Food will be a defining issue of the 21st century. Unlocking its potential will catalyse the achievement of both the SDGs and Paris Agreement.”

Based on a review of scientific evidence, the Commission concludes that the adoption of healthy diets from sustainable food systems would both improve the health of all and safeguard the planet. In it’s report titled, ‘Food Planet Health,’ the members outline the health boundaries and the planetary boundaries that define the safe operating space for sustainable food systems. Health boundaries are informed by the scientific evidence on how the composition of the food people consume impacts their physical, mental and social well-being. According to the analysis, healthy diets “consist largely of a diversity of plant-based foods, low amounts of animal source foods, contain unsaturated rather than saturated fats, and limited amounts of refined grains, highly processed foods and added sugars.” The relative quantities of these foods are represented in the form of a planetary health plate, half of which (by volume) is made up fruits and vegetables. The other half is made up mostly of whole grains, plant protein sources, unsaturated plant oils and optional modest amounts of animal protein such as meat, eggs and dairy products.

On the global level, current consumption exceeds these health boundaries for meat (288%), tubers and starchy vegetables (293%) and added sugars (153%); however consumption patters vary widely among regions. Meat consumption in North America, for example exceeds the health boundary by 638%, whereas it remains below the boundary in many African countries. Modest increases in meat consumption in these countries could therefore contribute to addressing malnutrition.

For sustainable production systems, the report lays out six boundaries for greenhouse gas emissions, cropland use, water use, nitrogen application, phosphorous application, and biodiversity loss. Current agricultural production exceeds the thresholds for greenhouse gas emissions, phosphorous application and biodiversity loss, while nitrogen application is approaching the threshold. In a series of scenarios, the authors show that a combination of a high ambition transition towards sustainable agriculture, halving food waste and shifting towards planetary healthy diets could move all impacts back into the save operating space by 2050.

The Commission members then offer five strategies to achieve this global food systems transformation:

  • seeking international and national commitments for a shift towards healthy diets;
  • shifting agricultural priorities from producing high quantities of calories towards high quality food;
  • sustainably intensifying agriculture for high-quality food production;
  • strengthening and improving coordination of governance of land and oceans; and
  • halving food loss by at least 50%.

The scientific evidence reviewed for the report was published as a peer-reviewed special issue of the Lancet journal titled ‘Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems.’ EAT is a non-profit startup founded by the Stordalen Foundation, Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Welcome Trust. It aims to serve as science-based global platform for food system transformation. The EAT-Lancet Commission is part of EAT’s ten point plan for 2017-2020. The release of the study will be followed by further activities to translate the knowledge into action and generate stakeholder engagement. The Commission has also produced a series of briefs for cities, farmers, food service professionals, healthcare professionals, policy makers and the general public. [EAT website] [EAT-Lancet Commission website] [Publication: Food Planet Health] [Publication: Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems]

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