Reduce the global consumption of red meat and sugar; double the intake of fruits, vegetables and legumes; that the agricultural and livestock sector stop emitting carbon dioxide and drastically reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution; limit the use of water and no longer increase the use of land; reduce food waste by 50%… These are some of the recipes that are needed to preserve "planetary health". Under that term the scientific journal The Lancet it encompasses the "health of human civilization and the state of the natural systems on which they depend".
The planet has a problem: the unsustainable consumption model that the human being began to develop after the Second World War. "A radical transformation of the global food system is urgently needed," warns an international panel of 37 experts from 16 countries – grouped in the EAT-Lancet commission – who for three years has worked to develop a healthy diet model for humans and for the planet and whose conclusions are now known.
Nothing less than the need for a "new agricultural revolution" speaks Johan Rockström, one of the coordinators of the commission and member of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change Research. "World food production threatens climate stability and the resilience of ecosystems," warns the EAT-Lancet commission. And if now – with more than 7,000 million inhabitants on the planet – a "radical" transformation of the system is urgently needed, the more pressing it will be with the projected increase in population for the coming decades. The report puts the spotlight on the year 2050, when 10,000 million people are expected to inhabit Earth. The good news is that these experts assure that all these inhabitants can be fed, but they will have to apply deep changes in the diet and in the production model if they want to comply with agreements such as Paris against climate change. Those transformations in the diet could prevent 11 million premature deaths a year related to food.
THE SUSTAINABLE DAILY DIET
Although there is a "dietary gap" depending on the country and geographical area – in Indonesia and West Africa, for example, very small quantities of meat and dairy are consumed, unlike in North America – the expert report finds that average in the world the intake of red meat, starchy vegetables -like the potato- rich in carbohydrates and eggs is too high. The commission proposes an ideal diet – based on 2,500 kilocalories a day – and suggests that only 30 of them come from meat other than poultry, which would be equivalent, for example, to eating a small veal burger a week. The overall objective is to double the consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts, and halve red meat and sugar. Currently, and fundamentally in the West, the consumption of red meat and processed and refined foods is excessive, leading to health risks, greater than those caused by unsafe sex, alcohol, drugs and tobacco together, details The report.
"There is a deviation between what people eat and what they should eat," says Francisco Botella, member of the Spanish Society of Endocrinology and Nutrition. Explains that a healthy diet would, on the one hand, reduce the rate of obesity and associated pathologies, such as diabetes, arterial problems or high cholesterol, and, on the other hand, decrease the risk of some types of cancer, such as those World Health Organization (WHO) has associated with red and processed meat. "What do we have to strengthen? Fish, vegetables, dried vegetables, whole grains, promote the consumption of nuts as an alternative, and, in practice, reserve meat for special occasions, "sums up the endocrinologist, very favorable to the approach of the study. However, he warns of the difficulties of changing habits: "It is more difficult to change diet than religion".
In parallel, the experts propose changes to reduce the environmental impacts of agriculture and livestock, such as curbing the increase in land use for food and fertilizers, and the elimination of fossil fuels in this sector.
Sonja Vermeulen, one of the experts of the EAT-Lancet commission and member of the Hoffmann Center and of WWF, he is optimistic: "We have seen enormous changes in the world diet in the past, so a change in the future is possible". And he gives as an example the success that in Mexico have had the "taxes to reduce the consumption of sugary soft drinks". This specialist believes that changes in diets can be more "complex" than those that have to be undertaken in the model of food production. "Many farmers are interested in exploring ways to optimize production, for example by more accurately using fertilizers or irrigation, because it also improves their benefits," says Vermeulen.
"We need the cooperation of all actors, including citizens, governments and economic agents," says Francesco Branca, director of the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development of the WHO and also a member of the EAT-Lancet commission. And for this, according to Branca, tools such as "economic incentives, or the elimination of these incentives, information to consumers …" must be used. Governments, he adds, must make changes "in public investment in research and infrastructure and subsidies to farmers." And approve regulations on the use of land, water and fertilizers, concludes Branca.
Francesco Branca, director of the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development of the World Health Organization, is optimistic when looking to the past. "We have concrete experiences on the viability of these diets in many parts of the world. In Europe, the diet consumed in the 1960s around the Mediterranean basin was largely similar to what we are now describing as a healthy and sustainable diet. "
Branca is one of the experts who have been part of the EAT-Lancet commission responsible for the report published now. "At present, we have increased our consumption of red meat, saturated fats and sugar and decreased consumption of pulses," adds this expert, who is confident that this trend can be reversed using, for example, economic incentives. Jesús Román, president of the scientific committee of the Spanish Society of Dietetics and Food Sciences, in the same line, emphasizes that the proposal of the experts is nothing else than the much-praised Mediterranean diet. Román warns however that even in countries like ours there is a problem of application: "The Mediterranean diet we know by hearsay: in Spain lived its peak from the fifties to the seventies, then people began to have more money and eat more packed products. "