Page 46

According to previous EASAC work (EASAC 2017b), there is significant scientific opportunity to reduce food waste, to tackle overconsumption and to change dietary habits in a way that will reduce GHG emissions. As well as contributing to climate change mitigation and helping to reconcile current priorities with the interests of future generations, adjusting consumption patterns would also bring public health co-benefits in those populations that already consume large amounts of food from animal sources. If the average UK dietary intake were optimised to comply with the WHO recommendations, there could be an incidental reduction of 17% in GHG emissions. Adherence to such a diet could save almost 7 million years of life lost prematurely in the UK over the next 30 years and increase average life expectancy by over 8 months (Milner et al. 2015). Diets that result in additional GHG emission reductions could achieve further net health benefits but diets resulting in emission reductions greater than 40% could begin to reduce the improvements in some health outcomes and acceptability will diminish.

processed meat consumption provides increasingly robust insight on how consumption could be influenced by tax (Springmann et al. 2018b). A systematic review of ways to affect the ‘physical microenvironment’ to reduce meat demand, for example by portion control and retail positioning as well as by price (Bianchi et al. 2018), identifies important options for management choices. However, concern has been expressed that if there were to be a tax on red meat consumption in European countries, the impact is likely to be greatest on those with lowest income, potentially exacerbating the costs of consuming a healthy diet unless specific measures were implemented to prevent widening inequities such as reduced income taxes for low-income families or subsidies for healthier food items particularly fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds and whole grains. One obstacle to dietary change may be consumers’ underestimation of the environmental consequences of different types of food: to correct this lack of awareness, a well-designed carbon label on food products would help to give information about total GHG emissions within the supply chain (Camilleri et al. 2019).

A systematic review (Aleksandrowicz et al. 2016) of the evidence on GHG emissions and land and water use achievable by shifting current Western dietary intakes to environmentally sustainable dietary patterns demonstrated that reductions in environmental footprints were generally proportional to the magnitude of animal-based food restriction. These dietary shifts yielded modest benefits in all-cause mortality risk. Recent monitoring of food intakes in Germany, Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain, Poland and the UK (Walker et al. 2018) shows that individuals abstaining from red meat have lower environmental impacts while maintaining adequate nutrient intakes but that there is a large spread of eating patterns which may complicate recommendations for sustainable diets. It is also noteworthy that detailed analysis in Germany (Treu et al. 2017) found that the average organic diet requires about 40% more land than the average conventional diet: animal-based foods were responsible for about 75% of land use in both diets.

From analysis of household data in Africa, Asia and the Americas, there is an association between child stunting and low intake of animal-sourced foods (Headey et al. 2018), although more needs to be done to assess causality. While this concern may not have the same priority within the EU, more work is required on the status of vulnerable groups, and there is need for continuing discussion on what is a sustainable healthy diet and how to educate purchasing and consumption behaviours (Godfray et al. 2018; Willett et al. 2019). The implications of reducing overconsumption and, in particular, ruminant meat consumption, on human health and on land use continue to be an important topic for the science agenda (discussed in further detail in EASAC (2017b)): for example, in determining the impact of diets of differing composition on children’s development and learning, and in clarifying the impact of different feed conversion efficiencies in animal species on land use.

Although there is an accumulating evidence base on the impacts of food systems on GHG emissions (see also Reisinger and Clark 2018), the debate on practical ways to adjust diets so as to capture the health benefits has been more contentious (EASAC 2017b; Godfray et al. 2018; Willett et al. 2019). It is a complicated task to elucidate the consequences of different actions aiming to reduce meat consumption, although recent modelling work using worldwide data on mortality and health-related costs associated with red and

Ruminant meat for human consumption has declined in Europe over the period 1990–2000 but since then (2000–2013) has not declined further (Watts et al. 2018a)52. Is there a disconnect between achieving climate change objectives in terms of reducing livestock production and the advice for consuming a healthy diet commensurate with targets embedded in the SDGs (see also section 4.7)? A recent US modelling study demonstrates the importance of incorporating sustainability criteria for food systems in developing dietary guidelines (Blackstone et al. 2018). Similar work

52  Animal-based product consumption per capita is expected to continue to increase over the 2014–2020 period for the vast majority of animal product categories (EEA, ‘Food consumption – animal based protein’, briefing published 29 November 2018, on https://www.eea.europa.eu/airs/2018/resource-efficiency-and-low-carbon-economy/food-consumption-animal-based).

38  |  June 2019  |  Climate change and health

EASAC

The imperative of climate action to protect human health in Europe  

Opportunities for adaptation to reduce the impacts and for mitigation to capitalise on the benefits of decarbonisation. The pace and extent...

The imperative of climate action to protect human health in Europe  

Opportunities for adaptation to reduce the impacts and for mitigation to capitalise on the benefits of decarbonisation. The pace and extent...

Advertisement