Cut meat to half-rasher a day to save planet

Kenny Tucker
January 20, 2019

Red meat and sugar consumption would have to halve at least, while that of nuts, fruits, vegetables and legumes such as lentils and chickpeas must double.

"Indians should increase protein intake from plant sources such as pulses and legumes and with fish, fowl and meat in that order as part of a non-vegetarian diet, if preferred", said K. Srinath Reddy, a cardiologist and president of the New Delhi-based Public Health Foundation of India and a member of the commission.

"It is doable but it will take nothing less than global agricultural revolution". An effort also will be needed to protect land and ocean resources, and cut food waste globally.

Co-lead commissioner Dr Walter Willett of Harvard University in the USA, stressed the health advice submitted in the report. Unhealthy diets are the leading cause of ill-health worldwide and following the diet could avoid approximately 11 million premature deaths per year.

The meat and dairy industries also dispute the report's recommendations, saying their products deliver important nutrients and can be part of healthy diets. Over three years, they developed the "planetary health diet", which aims to address the global food system's devastating environmental impact as well as mass malnutrition.

Based on a dietary intake of 2,500 calories a day the Lancet recommends that adults eat no more than 14 grams of red meat a day - equivalent to one rasher of bacon.

The report urges people to eat just 14g of meat a day, which amounts to one hamburger's worth of meat each week.

This might seem onerous, but Willett argued that people in the United States and elsewhere are already adopting diets somewhat similar to this. The panel of experts who wrote it says a "Great Food Transformation" is urgently needed by 2050, and that the optimal diet they outline is flexible enough to accommodate food cultures around the world.

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"We've also seen in the U.S. that red meat consumption has come down 40% since it peaked in 1970, which is a big change".

"Food is absolutely central to this country and if we don't get that right then that's problems for our health and our planet".

The commission brought together 37 experts in agriculture, environmental sustainability, human health, and political science from 16 countries.

The "healthy diet" would mean a fundamental shift away from red meat and towards vegetables. "For this, we need to deal with post-harvest losses, increase local production of fruits and vegetables and encourage community gardens", he said. "The agriculture sector, while it has been successful in feeding the world, has not been successful in feeding the world well".

"For Indians, it is not mainly an issue of reduction in meat production", he pointed out, adding that these recommendations were mainly for Western countries.

Currently, almost a billion people are hungry and another two billion are eating too much of the wrong foods, causing epidemics of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. For example, countries in North America eat nearly 6.5 times the recommended amount of red meat, while countries in South Asia eat only half the recommended amount.

Meeting the targets for starchy vegetables such as potatoes and cassava would need big changes in sub-Saharan Africa, where people on average eat 7.5 times the suggested amount.

The dietary changes would be felt more in some regions than others.

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