A transformation to healthy diets would include more than doubling in the consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts, scientists say.
Photo: ©Alex Webb/Magnum Photos for FAO

Feeding 10 billion people a healthy diet by 2050

A radical transformation of the global food system is urgently needed, according to the EAT-Lancet Commission, which has developed global scientific targets for healthy diets and sustainable food production.

“Food will be a defining issue of the 21st century. Unlocking its potential will catalyse the achievement of both the SDGs and Paris Agreement” the EAT-Lancet Commission writes in its report Food in the Anthropocene: The EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems, published in January 2019.

The EAT-Lancet Commission brought together 37 leading scientists from 16 countries in various fields including human health, agriculture, political science and environmental sustainability. They call for widespread multi-sector, multi-level action including a substantial global shift towards healthy dietary patterns, large reductions in food loss and waste, and major improvements in food production practices.

Human health and environmental sustainability closely linked

The Commission presents an integrated global framework and provides quantitative scientific targets for healthy diets and sustainable food production. It maintains that feeding ten billion people a healthy diet within safe planetary boundaries for food production by 2050 is both possible and necessary.

The scientists point out that there is substantial scientific evidence that diets are linked to human health and environmental sustainability. At the same time, they argue that the absence of globally agreed scientific targets for healthy diets and sustainable food production has hindered large-scale and co-ordinated efforts to transform the global food system.

The Commission recommends a diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal sourced foods. The scientists maintain that such a diet confers improved health as well as environmental benefits.

Achieving planetary health diets for nearly 10 billion people by 2050

The Commission focuses on the goal to “achieve planetary health diets for nearly 10 billion people by 2050”, while planetary health means “the health of human civilisation and the state of the natural systems on which it depends”. The Comission members have identified two targets to achieve this goal: first, healthy diets and secondly, sustainable food production.

The transformation to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts, the commission states. This includes more than doubling the consumption of healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts, and a greater than 50 per cent reduction in the global consumption of less healthy foods such as added sugars and red meat. Because some of the world’s populations depend on agropastoral livelihoods, the role of animal-source foods in people’s diets must be carefully considered in each individual context.

Concerning sustainable food production, the Commission focuses on six main systems and processes affected by food production and for which scientific evidence allows the provision of quantifiable targets: Climate change, Land-system change, Freshwater use, Nitrogen cycling, Phosphorus cycling and Biodiversity loss. For each of these, the Commission proposes boundaries that global food production should stay within to decrease the risk of irreversible and potentially catastrophic shifts in the Earth system.

Strategies for a “Great Food Transformation”

To achieve the two above-mentioned targets and finally the overarching goal, the Commission recommends five strategies for a “Great Food Transformation”:

Strategy 1: Seek international and national commitment to shift toward healthy diets.

Strategy 2:  Reorient agricultural priorities from producing high quantities of food to producing healthy food.

Strategy 3: Sustainably intensify food production to increase high-quality output.

Strategy 4: Strong and co-ordinated governance of land and oceans.

Strategy 5: At least halve food losses and waste, in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals.

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More information: eatforum.org/eat-lancet-commission/