KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A variety of skeptics are responding to a new report from the EAT-Lancet Commission, which concludes that current production methods and consumption of meat and poultry products and some other foods are not part of the solution to feeding the world’s growing population and establishing a global food supply system that is sustainable for the long term.
EAT is a self-proclaimed “global, non-profit startup dedicated to transforming our global food system through sound science, impatient disruption and novel partnerships.” The Lancet is made up of a series of research-focused journals addressing topics that include social, medical, public health, psychiatric, medicine and infectious diseases. The EAT-Lancet Commission is announcing the findings and recommendations of 37 scientists from 16 countries, during a kick-off event, the EAT-Lancet Launch Lecture on Jan. 17 as part of a series of global launch events scheduled in the coming months. With the goal of feeding 10 billion people by 2050, the consortium of researchers concluded that dramatic changes in diets, including drastically reducing the consumption of red meat and to a lesser degree, poultry, will be required.
“Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50 percent,” said Walter Willett, MD, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in the report’s summary statement. “A diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits,” according to Willet.
The summary report also stated: “Overall, the literature indicates that such diets are “win-win” in that they are good for both people and planet. However, there is still no global consensus on what constitutes healthy diets and sustainable food production.”
Response from the industry and organizations promoting sustainable solutions were critical of the commissions recommendations.
Officials from the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) said the report is “based on dubious science and is irresponsible.” The recommendations would be counterproductive to efforts to improve sustainability and issues of undernutrition, according to the NPPC.
Jim Heimerl, NPPC president said US agriculture is a shining example of how the world can produce an increasing amount of food in a way that is environmentally responsible.
“The U.N. has said there are ‘limitations to emissions reductions in the agriculture sector particularly because of … providing food for a global population that is expected to continue to grow’ and that ‘it would be reasonable to expect emissions reductions in terms of improvements in efficiency rather than absolute reductions in GHG emissions.’
Heimerl added: “To address sustainability and undernourishment maybe the report’s authors should call on the European Union to drop its Draconian ‘precautionary principle’ that all but prevents the use of new technologies and modern production practices. It’s those kinds of restrictions that are forcing farmers around the world to forego using scientifically proved technologies that produce more food and in a more environmentally friendly way.”
The Sustainable Food Trust (SFT) issued a statement supporting the commission’s effort to provide analysis on why food consumption patterns and the food system warrants global attention but points out the validity of its recommendations indicate a “fundamental lack of agricultural understanding.” SFT said the positive impact of legitimate sustainable farming systems are not supported by the commission’s recommendations.
“For instance, in prioritizing reductions in beef and lamb consumption over poultry consumption, the resulting environmental and health outcomes will both be negative,” states the SFT.
“We welcome the fact that the report highlights the urgent need for fundamental change in farming systems and diets. However, it does little to inform the public about the path to a sustainable future and in some key respects will make things worse,” said Patrick Holden, CEO of SFT. “A key weakness in the report is the failure to fully differentiate between livestock that are part of the problem and those that are an essential component of sustainable agricultural systems. This results in messages that are likely to add to existing confusion around what constitutes a healthy and sustainable diet.”
Officials with the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) agreed that the solutions suggested in the EAT-Lancet Report don’t consider overarching global issues, referring to the recommendations as a “fad-diet solution to complex global issues.”
“Health for people and the planet are two complex issues that demand comprehensive solutions across a range of stakeholders,” said Katie Rose McCullough, Ph.D., NAMI’s director of scientific and regulatory affairs. She added that what constitutes a healthy diet is based on established conclusions of nutrition science.
“Americans consume the recommended amount of meat and poultry, which provide nutrition that cannot simply be replaced by another food. In fact, the report's ‘fad diet’ approach that recommends people radically reduce or even eliminate meat from their diets could have substantial damaging public health consequences.”
McCullough also pointed out that the report doesn’t consider the impact on the climate today’s food production has and how efforts to become more efficient have improved the outcomes of the current system.
“US farmers and ranchers produce more meat and poultry than ever before, using fewer animals, less land and water, and with a smaller environmental footprint,” she said. “As a result, animal agriculture accounts for just 4 percent of all US greenhouse gas emissions. Zeroing in on meat production and consumption as a climate change ‘silver bullet’ solution distracts from the many changes that are needed across various sectors to create meaningful improvements.”