Governments must promote sustainable nutrition – The health of the planet is at stake


Nordic countries fail to meet World Health Organization recommendations for healthy diets and fall short of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12 on consumption and production . Thus, for the first time, the Nordic nutritional recommendations (NNR) for 2022 will fully integrate sustainability criteria into the guidelines for food composition and recommended nutrient intake. This reflects a general trend in the Nordic region and elsewhere, where sustainable nutrition is part of a substantial shift as governments tackle the environmental impacts of current policies.

Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden are not alone. Sustainable nutrition is a multi-dimensional issue, and the way the food industry produces and markets our food affects our nutritional health. Unhealthy eating habits, the increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods, increasing malnutrition and worsening food insecurity are also visible around the world.

Achieving a food future that has low environmental impacts, contributes to food and nutritional stability, and provides healthy lives for present and future generations is an urgent issue that depends on global collaborative efforts.

Problems within industrialized food systems

The Food Tank describes the “triple planetary crisis” we are facing: climate change, loss of nature and biodiversity, and crisis in human health. What is the common thread that links these competing crises? It is dysfunctional food systems that are making us sick and fueling the climate crisis.

What unsustainable practices underpin today’s industrialized food systems?

All of these have a negative impact on human, animal and ecological health. Food systems cause or are intrinsically linked to:

  • significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
  • increase in zoonotic diseases like COVID-19
  • antimicrobial resistance
  • environmental contamination
  • deforestation and land degradation

“We don’t turn them into vegans,” said Marty Heller, senior research specialist at the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan. ABC News. “We’re just saying, hey, eat something that’s average [carbon] footprint.”

UK eats less meat, but sustainable nutrition goals are still needed

Daily meat consumption in the UK has fallen by 17% over the past decade, a study from October 2021 showed. This reduction is not happening fast enough to meet a key national target, however, the targets set by the National Food Strategy aim to reduce the environmental impact of UK diets.

Nutritional recommendations indicate that UK meat consumption is to drop by 30% over the next 10 years. The assessment is based on a review of the entire UK food system, from agriculture and production to hunger and sustainability.

High meat consumption, especially red meat and processed meat, negatively affects our health, while meat production is one of the main contributors to global warming and environmental degradation. The livestock sector is responsible for around 15% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while causing deforestation, land degradation and loss of biodiversity.

The UK study indicates that global changes in meat consumption are estimated to be associated with a significant reduction in the 6 environmental indicators associated with meat production, including land use (-35%), GHG (-28%), acidifying emissions (-21%;), eutrophic emissions (-25%), freshwater abstraction (-23%) and stress-weighted water use ( –33%).

Beyond the UK: Global Effects of Industrial Meat

High consumption of animal products, especially red meat and processed meat, also negatively affects human health. Avoiding the intake of fat from red meats and meat products would help prevent, according to the United States National Institutes of Health, not only well-known cardiovascular diseases derived from the consumption of fat, but also certain types of fat. cancers, mainly colorectal cancer.

The nutritional recommendations of the EAT-Lancet Commission indicate that the global consumption of red meat must decrease by more than 50% to achieve a healthy and sustainable diet, or by 89% to stay within the limits of the planet. The EAT-Lancet Commission report, co-authored by Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, calls for:

  • global cooperation and commitment to shift diets towards healthy, largely plant-based patterns
  • make big reductions in food loss and waste
  • implement significant sustainability improvements in food production practices

“We are currently on the way to a seriously degraded planet,” says Willett. “If we care about the world our children and grandchildren will live in, we need to transform our diet and the way we produce our food. An immediate benefit will be the improvement of our health and well-being.

Such a sustainable nutritional orientation would be a substantial change in eating habits, probably requiring a lot of intervention.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines sustainable diets as those that protect and respect biodiversity and ecosystems; culturally acceptable; accessible; economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; and optimization of natural and human resources.

The Union of Concerned Scientists argues that federal funding for “sustainable nutritional science” – an area of ​​research and education at the intersection of food production, climate and environment and nutrition – is extremely low, amounting to less than 25 cents per thousand. dollars in federal research funding. They say the federal government is a long way from the investments it needs to make in systems-based, sustainable nutrition science.

What can you do to be part of a sustainable nutritional lifestyle?

We live in a time when humanity is the dominant driver of change in atmospheric, geological, hydrological, biospheric and other systems. Our influence has never been greater. In terms of human activities, agriculture is the leading cause of global environmental change, and examples of global environmental change include climate change, deforestation, desertification, and damage to coastal reefs and marine ecosystems.

The biggest impacts lie in voting and purchasing power, as governments and industry make significant changes for countries to meet long- and short-term emissions targets. But the simplest thing that people can do in their daily lives to promote positive effects in the fight against the climate is to make lasting nutritional changes.

While good nutrition is essential for human life, the way we produce food has changed dramatically since our ancestors tilled their own soil, searched for native foods, and moved on with seasonal food opportunities. However, today we can take a more sustainable approach to healthy eating that will help protect the Earth and its climate.

  • Grow or buy local fruits and vegetables.
  • Reduce your food waste and compost.
  • Choose items with less processing and packaging.
  • Know the carbon footprint of the food you buy.

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