In order to feed a growing population and maintain a sustainable environment, global food production and consumption will have to radically change – including a significant increase in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables and a decrease in red meat, Dr. Jessica Fanzo, the Alliance for a Healthier World’s Food & Nutrition Security theme lead, said at the 2019 EAT Stockholm Food Forum.
“When we look at malnutrition in all its forms we know that the problem is universal and massive,” she told attendees. “We worked hard to come up with scientific targets for healthy diets and sustainable food systems that can then feed into business, communities, cities, and development across the world.”
Consisting of more than 30 of the world’s leading scientists, the EAT-Lancet Commission was convened to develop a scientific basis for healthy diets and sustainable food systems and to give recommendations on how to accelerate food system transformation. The Commission, of which Fanzo is a member, released its report titled “Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems” in January.
At the recent forum, Fanzo and commission co-chair Johan Röckstrøm discussed the severity of malnutrition and environmental degradation.
“We’re clearly in a situation where food and environment are considered massive global risks to society,” Fanzo said.
Röckstrøm explained that the commission aimed to answer the question of how the world could feed 10 billion people while staying within planetary boundaries. Commissioners applied many different scientific methodologies, including modeling, data scanning, mapping, and synthesizing other studies.
“I think it’s fair to say that this is the best assessment we have today of what does the state of science say in terms of healthy diets from sustainable food systems?” he told attendees. “We adopted for the first time a new conceptual framework, recognizing that we are in the Anthropocene,” a geological epoch, following the Holocene and Pleistocene, in which human activity is the dominant driver of change.
Fanzo described how people’s diets must change in order to accommodate a growing population and large-scale planetary change – including increasing consumption of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes, and reducing red meat consumption. She acknowledged that this would mean food production would have to adapt significantly as well.
She emphasized that cultural and geographic differences meant that this diet would look different depending on location or various social factors.
“This diet is meant to be adapted for different cultures, different traditions depending on where people live,” she said. “It’s not a constructed cookie cutter approach.”
Fanzo noted that if this diet were implemented successfully, it could result in the reduction of 11 million adult deaths per year, or 19-25% of global mortality.
According to Röckstrøm, accomplishing this will require major innovations in the food and agriculture system, although he believes it is possible.
“We can feed humanity by 2050 within a safe operating space,” he said. “But it’s a sustainability transformation: reducing food waste, adopting a planetary health diet, and investing in sustainable intensification.”
Fanzo and Röckstrøm acknowledged that there were many factors that were not addressed in the report, such as economic impact, actor behavior or the food supply chain. They explained that while the report may be controversial, they hope it will start conversations and spur people to act.
“It’s sparking scientific and political debate, and that’s exactly what we wanted it to do,” Fanzo said. “We knew that we would be on the chopping block when we did this, but we were willing to do that as a Commission to really get people talking.”
Video of the presentation is available here.
Article by AHW Global Health Scholar Alyssa Wooden. Alyssa is majoring in Public Health Studies and minoring in Environmental Studies. Since 2017 she has served as the editor for the Johns Hopkins News-Letter and has worked with a local organization to prepare policy briefs for environmental impacts on child health.