Feeding the world’s 10 billion people by 2050 will only be possible with a sustainable diet, halving consumption of red meat and sugars and doubling the use of nuts, legumes and fruit.
The diagnosis, released today, is part of a report by a committee of experts from the Lancet scientific journal that the planet will not be able to feed so many people without a change in eating habits, improved production and reduced waste.
And this shift toward healthier food consumption will also prevent the untimely death of 11 million people each year, reducing adult death by 19 per cent to 23.6 per cent.
According to experts, a healthy and planetary standard diet will consist of approximately 35% of the calories from whole grains and tubers, having in plants the main source of protein (including only about 14 grams of red meat a day), and consumption of 500 grams of vegetables and fruits per day.
It is this change in eating habits that will lead to a 50% reduction in consumption of red meat and sugar and a 50% increase in the consumption of nuts, vegetables, fruits and vegetables.
This change, the report says, guarantees a global food system and does not jeopardize the planet’s limits on food production, taking into account, for example, climate change, loss of biodiversity, land and water use and the cycle of nutrients.
And that change, according to the document, is “urgently needed,” as more than three billion people suffer from malnutrition and food production is exceeding the planet’s capacity, driving climate change, biodiversity loss and increased pollution from overuse of fertilizers.
The report by the Lancet EAT Commission proposes a diet based on herbal and low-food foods of animal origin, refined grains, highly processed food and sugars.
“Today’s diets are pushing the Earth beyond its limits while causing health problems. It puts both people and planet at risk,” the report said.
Tim Lang of the University of London, a member of the committee, says that “the food we eat and the way we produce it determine the health of people and the planet, and we are currently doing it very wrong.”
The EAT Commission is a three-year project that brings together 37 experts from 16 countries with expertise in health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, food systems, economics and political governance.
In the report, officials stress that increased food production over the past 50 years has contributed to increased life expectancy, reduced hunger, child mortality and global poverty, but they note that these benefits are now shifting, high-calorie diets, sugars, refined starches and excess meat, and low content of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and fish.
Currently, it is said in the document, North American countries eat almost 6.5 times more meat than recommended, while in South Asia they eat half of what was supposed. All countries are eating more starch-rich vegetables such as potatoes and cassava than recommended, 1.5 times more in South Asia or 7.5 times more in sub-Saharan Africa.
The proposed model increases the consumption of healthy polyunsaturated acids and reduces the consumption of saturated fats, and also increases the intake of essential micronutrients such as iron, zinc, folic acid, vitamin A and calcium. The lack of vitamin B12 (much present in animal foods) may have to be compensated.
The authors also note that it is necessary to decarbonise the energy system faster than expected to allow 10 billion people to be fed by 2050 without producing more greenhouse gases. And we need to reduce biodiversity loss and use of phosphorus (fertilizers) and not increase the use of nitrogen (in fertilizers as well).
And they propose that policies be put in place to encourage people to choose healthy diets, advertising restrictions, and education campaigns. Then food prices should reflect production costs, but also environmental costs, so there may be increased costs for consumers, and social protection policies may be needed.
And the food waste should be reduced by at least half. They note that this waste occurs in poor countries during production due to poor planning, lack of market access and lack of storage and processing structures.
In rich countries waste is mainly caused by consumers and can be solved with campaigns that improve purchasing habits, understanding labels, and storage, preparation, proportions and use of leftovers.
The Lancet will launch several reports this year, the next, at the end of the month, will be on obesity, malnutrition and climate change.