Global campaign to feed world without harming the planet arrives in Israel

Now launched in Hebrew, the EAT- Lancet Commission report sets out how 10 billion people can be fed healthy food by 2050 while protecting Earth

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Fruit on sale at Europe's largest outdoor market, Porta Palazzo in Turin, Italy, in October 2006. (AP Photo/J.M. Hirsch)
Fruit on sale at Europe's largest outdoor market, Porta Palazzo in Turin, Italy, in October 2006. (AP Photo/J.M. Hirsch)

An international campaign to change food habits in order to feed 10 billion people by 2050 without overstretching the planet reached Israel on Tuesday, with the release of its report in Hebrew.

The worldwide campaign, which began in January 2019 and is sponsored by the prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet, and a global, nonprofit foundation called EAT, constitutes the first attempt to set universal science-based targets for the food system that apply to all people and to the way they farm the earth.

The EAT-Lancet Commission’s report, written in English, has been translated into Arabic, Chinese, French, Indonesian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

The Hebrew version was introduced Tuesday by Tel Aviv University’s Steinhardt Museum of Natural History and the Israel Forum for Sustainable Nutrition.

37 scientists from 16 countries

Under the joint chairmanship of Prof. Walter Willett of Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Prof. Johan Rockström of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the Stockholm Resilience Centre, the commission brought together 37 leading scientists from 16 countries in disciplines such as human health, agriculture, political sciences and environmental sustainability.

They concluded that it is possible by 2050 to provide healthy diets for 10 billion people without harming the planet and that doing so could prevent some 11 million deaths per year.

A protester carries an empty bowl and spoon to show that the Haitian people are hungry and suffering during a march of thousands called by the artist community, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019. Anger over corruption, inflation and scarcity of basic goods, including fuel, has led to more than a month of demonstrations that have paralyzed the country as protesters demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Double the fruit and veg, halve the red meat

Achieving this will require consumption of healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts to more than double and that of unhealthy foods such as added sugars and red meat to more than halve, the researchers found.

It will also require dramatic changes in the ways that humans farm the land and manage the oceans, a halving of the amount of food wasted or lost, and major improvements to the way food is produced.

“Food is the single strongest lever to optimize human health and environmental sustainability on Earth. However, food is currently threatening both people and planet,” the commission’s report says.

Bad diets riskier than unsafe sex, alcohol, drugs, tobacco, combined

“More than 820 million people still lack sufficient food, and many more consume either low-quality diets or too much food. Unhealthy diets now pose a greater risk to morbidity and mortality than unsafe sex, alcohol, drug and tobacco use combined,” the report continues.

In this August 16, 2016 file photo, two overweight women tour the World Trade Center in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

“Global food production threatens climate stability and ecosystem resilience and constitutes the single largest driver of environmental degradation

“Taken together, the outcome is dire. A radical transformation of the global food system is urgently needed. Without action, the world risks failing to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement, and today’s children will inherit a planet that has been severely degraded and where much of the population will increasingly suffer from malnutrition and preventable disease.”

Planetary health plate

The commission determined that by volume, a planetary health plate should consist of approximately half a plate of vegetables and fruits, with the other half containing mainly whole grains, plant protein sources, unsaturated plant oils, and (optionally) modest amounts of animal sources of protein.

The report sets out targets within ranges for groups of food, based on an intake of 2,500 kcal/day and the need for planetary protection. For example, it recommends eating 300 grams (10.5 ounces) of vegetables a day, within a range of 200 to 600 grams, along with 200 grams (seven ounces) of fruit, within a range of 100–300 grams.

Vegetarian food sold at the restaurant Village Green on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem. April 17, 2008. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Beef, lamb and pork, however, should not exceed 28 grams (one ounce), with a target of just 14 (half an ounce). The ceiling for chicken and other poultry is 58 grams (two ounces), with a target of 29 grams.

Alongside food, the report also sets out targets for mitigating climate change, as well as overhauling land and freshwater use, cycling nitrogen and phosphorous and acting to reduce biodiversity loss.

From now on, the researchers say, humanity will have to rely on existing agricultural land for food, without any expansion into natural ecosystems and species-rich forests. Farming will have to be intensive but sustainable, with technical innovation playing an important role, and half the earth will have to be reserved for biodiversity conservation.

Travelers in the forests of the Tatra mountains, Slovakia, August 28, 2019. (Anat Hermon/FLASH90)

The report is not meant to lay down the same diet for everyone, rather to outline food groups and ranges of food intakes, and to leave the rest to local interpretation and adaptation.

But it warns that a great food transformation will not come about without multi-sector, multi-level action, guided by scientific targets, and without making healthy foods more available, accessible and affordable, improving nutritional information and food marketing, investing in public health information and sustainability education, implementing food-based dietary guidelines, and using health care services to deliver dietary advice and support.

Israelis lead on meat consumption

“Israelis are up at the top when it comes to per capita consumption of meat, which raises the danger of morbidity and mortality and has a destructive effect on the environment,” Dr Alon Shepon, chair of the Israel Forum for Sustainable Nutrition, said at the launch of the Hebrew report at the Steinhardt Museum, attended by Knesset members, government officials, researchers and others.

Tamar Dayan

Officials at the Health Ministry understood the damage caused by significant consumption of animal products, he went on. But government ministries for whom the environmental impact of food should be relevant — Agriculture, Environmental Protection and Economy — lacked incentives to bring about a change in the consumption of meat in Israel, the reason being that the damage — forest burning, methane gas emissions and waste of water — took place in the countries that supply the Jewish state and not within its own borders.

Dr Alon Shepon, chair of the Israel Forum for Sustainable Nutrition. (Screenshot)

In light of Israel’s lack of any comprehensive policy on food, the EAT-Lancet report provided a “lever for a change of attitude so badly needed for  the decision-makers,” Shepon said.

Museum chairperson Prof. Tamar Dayan said that Israel was characterized by high population growth and density and a standard of living based on extensive consumption of resources. All that was within a country that borders the desert, that is heating up quickly and where climate change is also affecting rainfall. “In light of this, the challenge set out in the report is particularly great in Israel,” she said.

EAT was established by the Stordalen Foundation, Stockholm Resilience Centre and Wellcome Trust to catalyze a food system transformation.

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