The Eat-Lancet Commission report published this week has drawn comments from all parts of the food and farming sector, one or two of which may have benefited from a quick read first, before committing to Twitter.
It has much to commend it. Indeed, it is arguably the most comprehensive and ambitious report we’ve seen for some time, addressing the twin challenges of healthy diets and sustainable farming, better for people and planet.
On 20th February, The RSA Food Farming and Countryside Commission will be hosting a debate in partnership with City University’s Food Thinkers Series, to explore what the report means for UK policy and practices. Meanwhile, here are my favourite eight take-aways.
- Eat less meat. Yes, this is the message that most commentators focus on. And it has to be said. But the focus on red meat risks the unintended consequence of promoting more intensively produced pig and poultry. I think It’s simple. Let’s focus on no intensively produced meat. No more ‘Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations’, or ‘factory farms,’ or indoor pigs or poultry. Instead, utilise fewer ruminants, in the right ways to convert pasture to high quality protein, and outdoor reared poultry and pigs (which also thrive in woodlands). Livestock should be part of sustainable circular eco-systems. When animal welfare becomes a central component to consider, yes, there will be much less meat, and it will be valued more. The Commission devotes an Appendix to the concept of ‘livestock on leftovers’. It is clear that, within the context of a global reduction in meat and dairy consumption, livestock extensively reared on grass or food waste inedible to humans will continue to have a role to play in sustainable food systems.
- Shift the world’s food production from quantity and over-supply, to quality and equity. Underpinning all the many issues the report highlights, is the problem of over-production and over-consumption in some countries, and inequity and malnutrition in others. We need to recalibrate food and farming system towards producing smaller quantities of healthier, nutrient-dense food, in harmony with local climates, cultures and ecosystems.
- Eat much more fruit, vegetables, and plant-based foods, and encourage diversity of production in all countries. Cut back dramatically on growing things we don’t need more of – like sugar - and grow more that we do need – such as nuts and pulses - and a much wider range of them, to recover crop and genetic diversity.
- Review the concentration of power in the commodities markets, from the number of businesses who control them, to their control of species grown and the limited genetic pools from which they’re drawn. Regulate those businesses’ power to exert too much influence over the markets in which small and medium sized primary producers operate. The report highlights how, in many parts of the world, small family farms need better support – such as investment and infrastructure for shorter supply chains - to develop and grow a much wider variety of foods, more suited to their climates and conditions, which, in turn, also has beneficial health and ecosystem effects.
- Food prices should fully reflect the true cost of food, from production, processing to consumption. Reduce or remove chemical inputs to recover bio-diversity and reduce pressures on eco-systems. Food prices will increase in some countries. In rich countries, food is – arguably – too cheap, which devalues it. Protect vulnerable citizens through social measures (such as increasing incomes or redistribution through tax systems).
- Focus on waste, from production to post-consumer. If food is valued more, waste is reduced. Develop virtuous circular systems. The Pig Idea in UK seeks to lift the ban on feeding food waste to pigs.
- Develop a strategic, integrating framework for land (and oceans) to protect or regenerate ecosystems and mediate pressures on land use. Countries need to set for themselves, and often with their neighbours, the conditions which help them produce food within planetary boundaries, source their energy needs, mitigate and adapt to climate breakdown and protect and recover biodiversity.
- Governments must intervene more (and act together). From international trade policies, to making it easier to restrict activities of transnational corporations who profit from producing unhealthy food or depleting ecosystems; through to local governments, to use procurement and zoning laws to promote access to healthy food and restrict access to unhealthy food, the report does not shy away from highlighting the big structural, economic and political questions.
In short, this report is very much more than a bid to reduce meat and promote plant-based diets. It’s a serious analysis of the way that complex trans-national food and farming systems operate now - and a rallying call to urgent action, to grow a global consensus for more sustainable systems for people and planet.
Sue Pritchard is Director of the Food, Farming & Countryside Commission
Tickets for the debate at RSA House on 20th February will go live on 6th February on the RSA Events webpage. Dr Sandro Demaio, CEO of EAT, will present the EAT-Lancet Commission findings followed by a panel discussion on the steps that need to be taken to transition to a more sustainable land use and a healthier diet – both core themes of the Food, Farming & Countryside Commission’s work. Tickets are free of charge and available to all.