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Science-based global platform for food system transformation, EAT, is launching a second report in collaboration with The Lancet on feeding a growing population sustainably.
The first EAT-Lancet Commission in 2019 convened 37 leading scientists from 16 countries specialising in human health, agriculture, political sciences and environmental sustainability, to develop global scientific targets for healthy diets and sustainable food production.
The findings provided clear evidence that food has a profound impact on the health of our planet, advocating for what is known as the ‘Planetary Health Diet’ — a diet rich in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, with a 50% reduction of animal product consumption.
In fact, the main finding of the report was that a radical transformation of the global food system is urgently needed to mitigate climate disaster, with an aim for 10 billion people to be eating the Planetary Health Diet by 2050.
What is the second report aiming for?
Building on the findings of the first publication, the second EAT-Lancet report will “accelerate progress and contribute to Sustainable Development Goals by including several new elements”.
The goals include greater inclusion of a diversity of diets and production processes evaluated as healthy, sustainable and equitable, a greater focus on inclusion, both in the composition of the Commission and in the local diets and a new focus on food justice and social food system goals.
It also aims for a 12-month global consultation with the aim of increasing local legitimacy, inclusion, and adoption of the Commission’s recommendations and an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) modelling efforts to evaluate multiple transition pathways to health, sustainable, and just food futures.
Criticism of the first report
While the first report was well received by the scientific community, British farming groups including the NFU and Soil Association had somewhat critical responses.
Speaking to Speciality Food, Rob Percival, head of food policy at the Soil Association explained, “The last EAT-Lancet report made a valuable contribution to the conversation over unhealthy and unsustainable diets, but it wasn’t perfect.
“While it is crucial to look at the global picture, planetary diet targets must be tailored to local realities, looking at what is possible from farm to fork in each country and region. For example, the Soil Association supports the EAT-Lancet recommendation to eat less meat – with a ‘less but better’ approach – but the UK’s countryside is well suited for grazing cattle, ideally on nature-rich grasslands, implying that meat and dairy from ruminant animals should continue to play an important role in the UK diet.”
These ideas were mirrored by the National Farmers Union (NFU) as vice president, Stuart Roberts, announced in a statement, “It is vitally important that a wide-ranging, global report like this is looked at through a local lens. There are significant differences in farming methods and consumption patterns across the globe and it is important we recognise that the British livestock industry is one of the most efficient and sustainable in the world.
“For example, 65% of UK farmland is highly suitable for grass production over other crops, so the UK is well placed to produce food from sustainable livestock grazing systems. Also, grassland is a very good store of carbon, helping to mitigate the effects of climate change.”
Rob also urged that the second commission addresses a range of important issues omitted from the original EAT-Lancet study, including the risks of zoonotic disease and antimicrobial resistance associated with intensive poultry farming; animal welfare; the imperative to phase out chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilisers; issues related to food processing and distribution; and how to achieve food sovereignty and social equity across the food system. As he says, “All these issues point towards agroecology as a solution”, something not covered in the first report.
Did anything change after the last report?
Since the first report in 2019, EAT has been developing a partnership with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to elevate food systems in the climate agenda, advocate for the need for inclusion of sustainable food systems into countries’ adaptation and mitigation strategies and influence the food to be served to over 20,000 delegates at COPs every year.
But, speaking to Speciality Food, Dr Gunhild Stordalen, EAT founder and executive chair, admitted, “Critically we still lack consensus on global targets, and that means the key trendlines are not yet bending in the right direction. We continue to accelerate in the wrong direction, on a full collision course with nature, away from a future worth having for humanity.
“The escalating climate and nature crises, the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic, and now the terrible war against Ukraine — this entire cascade of interconnected crises screams out to us that we have indeed entered the territory of Code Red for Humanity as the UN Secretary-General termed it, and what’s wrong with food sits at the heart of it all. EAT-Lancet 2.0 will set out to reaffirm and confirm the evidence needed to solve this for all of us.”
Moreover, the Soil Association argues that in the UK, little has changed to ensure a sustainable future.
As Rob explained, “What is crucial is that the UK government acts – it has done nothing to spark a shift to healthy and sustainable diets since the last EAT-Lancet report. They have also failed to act on last year’s National Food Strategy recommendations, which laid out a UK-focused plan for shifting to sustainable diets and nature-friendly, agroecological farming at its core.
“We already know what must be done – our broken food system must be overhauled so that businesses championing good, local, sustainable food can thrive and become the norm. The government needs to stop dragging its heels in the face of the escalating climate and nature crises, and to help us to be more resilient from shocks in our increasingly volatile international food markets.”
Fabrice DeClerk, director of science at the EAT Foundation, concluded, “One of the greatest challenges of a healthy, sustainable and equitable food transformation is the growing gap between urban and rural communities. Fine food retailers can play their part in increasing the diversity and offer of healthy food from regenerative farms, notably in telling the stories of the all too often invisible farming families and communities at the vanguard of that transition. They also play a critical role in demonstrating that healthy and sustainable, can and must be delicious.”