Lancet Report Recommends Increasing Plant Protein Intake
"If we’re serious about feeding the world’s growing population healthy food, and not ruining the planet, we need to get used to a new style of eating. This includes cutting our Western meat and sugar intakes by around 50%, and doubling the amount of nuts, fruits, vegetables and legumes we consume."
These are the findings of 37 leading experts in nutrition, agriculture, ecology, political sciences and environmental sustainability from 16 countries published in the medical journal The Lancet.
The study begins with the observation that, although global food production of calories has kept pace with population growth, there is an uneven and unhealthy distribution of calorie consumption. The result is that health problems such as malnutrition and morbid obesity abound in the world.
“Unhealthy diets now pose a greater risk to morbidity and mortality than unsafe sex, alcohol, drug and tobacco use combined,” a summary of the study states. Furthermore, much of the way in which food is produced is harmful to the environment, necessitating a plan for food production that is in accordance with both the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement. Thus, the two “end-points” conceived by the commission are final consumption and production, with the final goal of ensuring a sustainable and healthy food production system by the year 2050.
In addressing final consumption, the study lays out the proper diet that the average person should be eating. In listing appropriate servings, the commission’s findings recommend that any plate of food should be half-composed of vegetables, with the remainder consisting of whole grains, plant-sourced protein, unsaturated plant oils, dairy foods, animal-sourced protein, added sugars, and starchy vegetables, all in descending order. The study makes clear that to achieve such dietary goals will require vast changes in the food consumption habits of people all over the world. As it is, consumption of red meat and sugar is too high for the maintenance of either human health or sustainability. If diet trends do change in a healthy manner, the commission predicts that the results could be tremendously beneficial to the global population.
To achieve the desired final consumption without harming the environment, the commission stresses that the next point--sustainable food production--must be vigorously pursued. To do this, food production must stay within climate change boundaries through the judicious use of resources such as croplands and water while minding the cycling of nitrogen and phosphorus and avoiding biodiversity loss. Although the task may sound daunting, the commission insists that the goal can be achieved.
Ultimately, the commission concludes that five strategies are necessary to bring the stated goals to fruition. It argues that through seeking international commitment, the reorientation of agricultural priorities, the sustainable intensification of food production, the strong and coordinated governance of land and oceans, and the halving of food losses and waste, a healthy population and planet can be brought about within the next half-century.