Strengthening Dietary Guidelines to Feed a Nature-Positive Future


11 August 2020 (UN Environment)* — Most dietary recommendations provided by national governments are not compatible with global environmental and health targets such as the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

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This is the conclusion of a first-of-its-kind study to analyse the health and environmental outcomes of national dietary guidelines in 85 countries around the world.

“The food system is a major driver of impacts on the environment, and without dietary changes towards more plant-based diets, key environmental limits related to climate change, land use, freshwater extraction, and biogeochemical flows associated with fertilizer application risk being exceeded,” found the study by researchers at Oxford, Harvard, Tufts and Adelaide universities, which was published in July 2020.

It also found that 98 per cent of national guidelines were incompatible with at least one global health and environmental target, meaning that even if there were global adherence to them, we would still fail to meet the targets governments have signed up to.

Providing clearer advice on limiting, in most contexts, the consumption of animal-source foods—in particular, beef and dairy—was found to have the greatest potential for increasing the environmental sustainability of dietary guidelines.

“Diets… low in fruits and vegetables and high in red and processed meat… represent one of the greatest health burdens globally and in most regions, and the chronic diseases related to unhealthy diets, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and type 2 diabetes, require costly treatment,” the study found.

Global warming impacts are also significant: Agriculture accounts for around a quarter of global greenhouse gases. A major concern is that rising global incomes—at least before the coronavirus pandemic—were driving up consumption of beef and dairy products, major drivers of CO2 and methane emissions.

Curbing overconsumption of animal and highly-processed food in wealthier countries and improving access to good nutrition in poorer ones can improve land use efficiency, make healthy food more affordable globally, and slash carbon emissions.

“All the indications are that the gap between actual CO2 emissions and the reductions we need to see to get close to 1.5°C are widening,” says United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) climate change expert Niklas Hagelberg.

“What we eat, and national government recommendations on how we need to change our eating habits can make a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But recommendations and regulations alone will not be enough. Clear and consistent policy support is needed to ensure that they are aligned with a country’s agricultural policy and that people actually follow them.”

 

On 1 September, UNEP and the World Wildlife Fund are publishing a document entitled Enhancing Nationally Determined Contributions for Food Systems: Recommendations for Decisionmakers.

 

A 2019 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)  of the United Nations found that delivering on country commitments to transform food systems and promote sustainable agriculture was critical to helping eradicate hunger and malnutrition by 2030. FAO recommended inclusive, multisectoral approaches to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build resilience.

*SOURCE: UN Environment. Go to ORIGINAL.

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