How to feed 10 billion people: Landmark report lays out a sustainable diet for the planet

How to feed 10 billion people: Landmark report lays out a sustainable diet for the planet
Scientists are calling for the global population to move towards a more plant-based diet
Scientists are calling for the global population to move towards a more plant-based diet
View 1 Image
Scientists are calling for the global population to move towards a more plant-based diet
Scientists are calling for the global population to move towards a more plant-based diet

It's no secret that the course we're on with food production and consumption is in need of serious correcting, but a major new report from a global team of scientists has laid out the kind of maneuvering needed to set us on a sustainable path. Billed as a planetary health diet for both the Earth and its people, the set of guidelines put forward by the EAT-Lancet Commission gun for nothing short of a "Great Food Transformation," something they say would feed 10 billion people, save lives and avoid large-scale environmental destruction.

The UN expects the global population to hit around 10 billion people by 2050, and the reality is our current food practices cannot support both that and the health of our planet. Indeed, the environment that supports human existence will begin to burst at the seams if we continue with the status quo. As associate professor of mathematics Andrew Hwang notes in The Conversation, in wealthy countries "we live as if our savings account balance were steady income."

The EAT-Lancet Commission is a team of 37 scientists from various disciplines that take aim at this problem via the prism of food. The aim of the team is to establish a robust, scientific consensus on what constitutes a diet that is not only nutritious and healthy, but will be sustainable for the planet in the year 2050.

One particularly unnerving statistic of our current food practices is that one in every three mouthfuls of it go to waste, around 1.3 billion tonnes annually, according to the UN's Food and Agricultural Association. The EAT-Lancet scientists say that around 820 million people go hungry every day, with 150 million children experiencing long-term hunger that hampers growth and development and 50 million of those children classed as "acutely hungry."

At the same time, obesity and diabetes rates are on the rise, with more than two billion adults around the world classed as overweight and obese. How we correct these imbalances, and do so in a way that looks after the planet, is a huge undertaking, but the scientists maintain that a healthy, sustainable food system is very much attainable.

"The food we eat and how we produce it determines the health of people and the planet, and we are currently getting this seriously wrong," says one of the report's authors, Professor Tim Lang, City, University of London, UK. "We need a significant overhaul, changing the global food system on a scale not seen before in ways appropriate to each country's circumstances. While this is unchartered policy territory and these problems are not easily fixed, this goal is within reach and there are opportunities to adapt international, local and business policies."

Red meat production places a huge strain on the environment, demanding vast amounts of land and water while outputting substantial greenhouse gas emissions. The scientists call for consumption of red meat to be halved globally, with that protein to be sourced from plants like chickpeas and beans instead. This is particularly pertinent in North America, where residents eat almost 6.5 times the recommended amount of red meat, compared to countries in South Asia where residents eat only half.

The team's proposed diet allows for the consumption of no more than 98 g (3.45 oz) of red meat a week, 203 g (7.1 oz) of chicken and 196 g (6.1 oz) of fish. Meanwhile, the diet suggests consuming at least 500 g (17.6 oz) of fruits and vegetables, 125 g of dry beans, lentils, peas and other nuts and legumes each day. While this presents a massive shift for many, it won't appear all that foreign to folks in some parts of the world.

"As the authors point out, many traditional diets, such as those in Mexico and India, consist largely of plant-based food and only small amounts of animal products," says Dr Matthew Ruby, a lecturer in Psychology at Melbourne's La Trobe University. "At the same time, there is a steady stream of innovations in plant-based products and cuisine, making it even easier for people to follow healthy and sustainable diets while continuing to enjoy their food."

The move away from unhealthy diets toward a more plant-based subsistence could help avoid approximately 11 million premature deaths per year, according to the scientists. Beyond the specifics, they also call for individuals to give greater consideration to how the food they buy is produced, implore them to consume a range of foods in order to support biodiversity in the food system, and to limit waste by avoiding overeating and making full use of their leftovers.

A brief of the report is available here, while a paper accompanying it was published in the journal The Lancet.

Source: EAT-Lancet

Bob Stuart
Why just reduce meat consumption? It was the health food of the Stone Age, but now, we have trade and food preservation, which let vegans live five years longer, and healthier all the way.
Do you remember the Green Revolution? In just two decades, circa 1960, agriculture changed immensely. We would have already starved if science hadn't taken us on its palm and lifted us up. SO: how can you consider the future of food, without considering the advance of agricultural science? This very e-mag reports on it regularly!
Also not unlike what a lot of americans ate pre-WW2, when chicken and beef were once or twice a week things. The new version has a lot more fruits and veg than people would have eaten back then, and less bread.
Everybody is missing the point. There are toooooo many people on the planet. It is time to stop the growth and work on a solution to reduce the population. And no I don't mean killing anyone. Just reducing the birthrates.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
Most of the developed world, that eats meat, doesn't have a replacement birth rate. As the rest of the world develops, it's birth rate, too will probably go below replacement. The population will probably reach 10 B before that.
Again more very biased report ignoring many things. First it is unlikely for the population to hit 9.2B, much less 10B as birthrates drop with education of women. Next the by far major reason for hunger is politics, nothing else. Saying otherwise is ignorant. Modern farming has greatly changed in the US and will around the world putting out far more food, biomass/acre, inputs, labor and 30% of the pollution . The world is completely capable of supply the food including grass fed beef. Beef isn't the problem, factory feedlots are. There were 50mm Bison here before so 20milion cattle isn't doing more impact than them. And switching to managed wild meats, rewilding as without hunting and predators, they are breeding out of control denuding the land, starving themselves too. Best is harvest these on a sustainable level. With just a little adjustment, get politicians out of the way and we can feed 10B easily even though that number is unlikely from population trends.
Jerome Morley Larson Sr eAIA
The sky is falling.... the sky is falling; every few years this doomsday report appears, creates an alarm; the authors are recoginzed; then life goes on; the next day, new iventions appear, pushing doomsday farther back; in a few years, another ‘scientist’ will analyize the new stats and prophesize without considering the future; because that is impossible — obviously, if we waste 40% and 40% are obese, solving those means we can double the population to 20billion with today’s inefficient food production — simply making it more efficient as in growing lettuce in abandoned factories in downtown Newark NJ doulbes it again — then add inventions and voila! — soon enough you get to one hundred billion poplulation which is where medicine is leading us as they cure ageing; and before we can get enough people sustainabley on the Moon and Planets/Moons. Oh well, back to the drawing board...
Ten billion people is just an obscene number. The question should be, How many people do we need to sustain society, pursue science and art, keep the peace, keep everyone fed and doing what is most productive and satisfying for them, and, most important, preserve the planet in livable condition for all species, not just us. In the 1960s I was on the Board of the World Population Society, and we were even then alarmed about the rapid rise in the world population, which we're now experiencing "in spades," with starving and undernourished people, desperate migrants, millions with no hope for a better life.
This is ridiculous. Diets around the world are changing to eat more, not less, protein. What will save us (yes, we need saving) is to bring new tech into the equation. Hyrdoponics for plants and manufacturing for meat will crush our environmental footprint while letting us eat what we want.
Load More