How to feed a growing population healthy food without ruining the planet



File 20190112 43529 sfajtu.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
For many of us, a better diet means eating more fruit and vegetables.
iStock, CC BY-NC

Alessandro R Demaio, University of Copenhagen; Jessica Fanzo, Johns Hopkins University, and Mario Herrero, CSIRO

If we’re serious about feeding the world’s growing population healthy food, and not ruining the planet, we need to get used to a new style of eating. This includes cutting our Western meat and sugar intakes by around 50%, and doubling the amount of nuts, fruits, vegetables and legumes we consume.

These are the findings our the EAT-Lancet Commission, released today. The Commission brought together 37 leading experts in nutrition, agriculture, ecology, political sciences and environmental sustainability, from 16 countries.

Over two years, we mapped the links between food, health and the environment and formulated global targets for healthy diets and sustainable food production. This includes five specific strategies to achieve them through global cooperation.




Read more:
How to conserve half the planet without going hungry


Right now, we produce, ship, eat and waste food in a way that is a lose-lose for both people and planet – but we can flip this trend.

What’s going wrong with our food supply?

Almost one billion people lack sufficient food, yet more than two billion suffer from obesity and food-related diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

The foods causing these health epidemics – combined with the way we produce our food – are pushing our planet to the brink.

One-third of the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change come from food production. Our global food system leads to extensive deforestation and species extinction, while depleting our oceans, and fresh water resources.

To make matters worse, we lose or throw away around one-third of all food produced. That’s enough to feed the world’s hungry four times over, every year.

At the same time, our food systems are at risk due to environmental degradation and climate change. These food systems are essential to providing the diverse, high-quality foods we all consume every day.

A radical new approach

To improve the health of people and the planet, we’ve developed a “planetary health diet” which is globally applicable – irrespective of your geographic, economic or cultural background – and locally adaptable.

The diet is a “flexitarian” approach to eating. It’s largely composed of vegetables and fruits, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and unsaturated oils. It includes high-quality meat, dairy and sugar, but in quantities far lower than are consumed in many wealthier societies.

Many of us need to eat more veggies and less red meat.
Joshua Resnick/Shutterstock

The planetary health diet consists of:

  • vegetables and fruit (550g per day per day)
  • wholegrains (230 grams per day)
  • dairy products such as milk and cheese (250g per day)
  • protein sourced from plants, such as lentils, peas, nuts and soy foods (100 grams per day)
  • small quantities of fish (28 grams per day), chicken (25 grams per day) and red meat (14 grams per day)
  • eggs (1.5 per week)
  • small quantities of fats (50g per day) and sugar (30g per day).

Of course, some populations don’t get nearly enough animal-source foods necessary for growth, cognitive development and optimal nutrition. Food systems in these regions need to improve access to healthy, high-quality diets for all.

The shift is radical but achievable – and is possible without any expansion in land use for agriculture. Such a shift will also see us reduce the amount of water used during production, while reducing nitrogen and phosphorous usage and runoff. This is critical to safeguarding land and ocean resources.

By 2040, our food systems should begin soaking up greenhouse emissions – rather than being a net emitter. Carbon dioxide emissions must be down to zero, while methane and nitrous oxide emissions be kept in close check.

How to get there

The commission outlines five implementable strategies for a food transformation:

1. Make healthy diets the new normal – leaving no-one behind

Shift the world to healthy, tasty and sustainable diets by investing in better public health information and implementing supportive policies. Start with kids – much can happen by changing school meals to form healthy and sustainable habits, early on.

Unhealthy food outlets and their marketing must be restricted. Informal markets and street vendors should also be encouraged to sell healthier and more sustainable food.




Read more:
Let’s untangle the murky politics around kids and food (and ditch the guilt)


2. Grow what’s best for both people and planet

Realign food system priorities for people and planet so agriculture becomes a leading contributor to sustainable development rather than the largest driver of environmental change. Examples include:

  • incorporating organic farm waste into soils
  • drastically reducing tillage where soil is turned and churned to prepare for growing crops
  • investing more in agroforestry, where trees or shrubs are grown around or among crops or pastureland to increase biodiversity and reduce erosion
  • producing a more diverse range of foods in circular farming systems that protect and enhance biodiversity, rather than farming single crops or livestock.

The measure of success in this area is that agriculture one day becomes a carbon sink, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Technology can help us make better use of our farmlands.
Shutterstock

3. Produce more of the right food, from less

Move away from producing “more” food towards producing “better food”.

This means using sustainable “agroecological” practices and emerging technologies, such as applying micro doses of fertiliser via GPS-guided tractors, or improving drip irrigation and using drought-resistant food sources to get more “crop per drop” of water.

In animal production, reformulating feed to make it more nutritious would allow us to reduce the amount of grain and therefore land needed for food. Feed additives such as algae are also being developed. Tests show these can reduce methane emissions by up to 30%.

We also need to redirect subsidies and other incentives to currently under-produced crops that underpin healthy diets – notably, fruits, vegetables and nuts – rather than crops whose overconsumption drives poor health.

4. Safeguard our land and oceans

There is essentially no additional land to spare for further agricultural expansion. Degraded land must be restored or reforested. Specific strategies for curbing biodiversity loss include keeping half of the current global land area for nature, while sharing space on cultivated lands.

The same applies for our oceans. We need to protect the marine ecosystems fisheries depend on. Fish stocks must be kept at sustainable levels, while aquaculture – which currently provides more than 40% of all fish consumed – must incorporate “circular production”. This includes strategies such as sourcing protein-rich feeds from insects grown on food waste.

5. Radically reduce food losses and waste

We need to more than halve our food losses and waste.

Poor harvest scheduling, careless handling of produce and inadequate cooling and storage are some of the reasons why food is lost. Similarly, consumers must start throwing less food away. This means being more conscious about portions, better consumer understanding of “best before” and “use by” labels, and embracing the opportunities that lie in leftovers.

Circular food systems that innovate new ways to reduce or eliminate waste through reuse will also play a significant role and will additionally open new business opportunities.




Read more:
Australian communities are fighting food waste with circular economies


For significant transformation to happen, all levels of society must be engaged, from individual consumers to policymakers and everybody along the food supply chain. These changes will not happen overnight, and they are not the responsibility of a handful of stakeholders. When it comes to food and sustainability, we are all at the decision dining table.

The EAT-Lancet Commission’s Australian launch is in Melbourne on February 1. Limited free tickets are available.The Conversation

Alessandro R Demaio, Australian Medical Doctor; Fellow in Global Health & NCDs, University of Copenhagen; Jessica Fanzo, Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor of Global Food and Agriculture Policy and Ethics, Johns Hopkins University, and Mario Herrero, Chief Research Scientist, Food Systems and the Environment, CSIRO

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Advertisements

Sustainable shopping: want to eat healthy? Try an eco-friendly diet



File 20180118 122935 6pu4zh.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Healthy eating should include thinking about the environmental cost of your food.
Al Case/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Michalis Hadjikakou, Deakin University

Following our annual Christmas overindulgence, many of us have set ambitious goals for the year ahead. But eating healthy shouldn’t just mean cutting down on snacks; given the environmental impact of food production, a more sustainable diet should feature high on everyone’s list of New Year’s resolutions.

Australians have one of the largest per capita dietary environmental footprints in the world, so there’s definitely room for improvement. But, as with all diets, radical and sudden changes like going vegan or vegetarian are notoriously difficult.




Read more:
Love meat too much to be vegetarian? Go ‘flexitarian’


Smaller, more achievable behavioural shifts are more realistic. This also makes sense from an environmental perspective – large-scale drastic changes might end up shifting one type of environmental impact to another.

This guide is about making informed, feasible changes towards a more environmentally sustainable diet. It starts with the food items you put in your shopping basket.

Meat, junk and waste

Sustainability researchers, like myself, track the life cycle of food from farm to fork, measuring the energy used and emissions generated by the entire process.

Australia’s food consumption contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, water scarcity, land clearing and biodiversity loss, and ocean pollution.




Read more:
Kitchen Science: from sizzling brisket to fresh baked bread, the chemical reaction that makes our favourite foods taste so good


There are many reasons our diets have such a large environmental impact, but one of the biggest is that we’re a nation of meat eaters. On average, an Aussie eats 95kg of meat a year, significantly more than the OECD average of 69kg.

Generally, animal-derived foods require more energy and resources and release significantly more emissions than most plant foods. This is particularly true for red meat: the current average consumption is 24% higher than the maximum recommended intake.

Another reason is our overconsumption of total calories, often driven by junk foods. Eating more food than we need means the environmental resources used in producing that extra food are wasted. It also leads to a range of health problems such as obesity.

Finally, the extraordinary amount of household food waste in Australia – around 3.1 million tonnes of edible food a year – also has a major impact.

What is realistic dietary change?

Sustainable dietary choices aren’t just about environmental impact – it also means being realistic and consistent. Only 11% of Australians are vegetarian, so expecting a majority to drastically reduce meat consumption is impractical, and probably alienating.

Alternatives like flexitarianism (eating meat more rarely) are more achievable for most.

An added complication is that most Australian cows are raised on pasture, which has a high carbon footprint but requires less water than growing many plant foods. So, the complete substitution of red meat or dairy with plant-based products could simply change one environmental impact for another.

Putting it all together – simple shopping advice

Moderation: Cutting out staples of the Australian diet, like meat, is not a realistic goal for many people. But try moderating your cmeat that has the highest environmental impact (beef and lamb) and instead go for chicken or pork.

Reducing junk food is good for your wallet, waist and the environment. Processed meats or dairy-based desserts have the highest footprints amongst junk foods, so when the urge to indulge hits, go for fruit-only desserts such as sorbets. Or just buy more fruit to freeze and turn into delicious and healthy smoothies that you can enjoy even more regularly. (Grapes are very high in sugar, and when frozen are great summer treats.)




Read more:
A healthy diet is cheaper than junk food but a good diet is still too expensive for some


Meal planning can also help cut down food waste, so it might be worth trying a pantry planning app.

Substitution: Think about your favourite recipes, and how you can swap out the most resource-greedy ingredients. Some meats can be replaced with alternative sources of protein such as legumes and nuts.

Sustainably-farmed or sourced seafood is another protein alternative with a lower environmental footprint compared to meat, as long as you choose your seafood wisely – for canned tuna make sure to check the label! Seasonal produce usually requires fewer resources and needs to travel less to the store, so it’s worth checking a guide to what’s in season in your region.




Read more:
Sustainable shopping: how to buy tuna without biting a chunk out of the oceans


Complex packaging of many food products, which is often unnecessary, also contributes to their environmental impact. Opt for loose fruit and vegetables and take your own shopping bags.

Experimentation: When you do buy meat, opt for novel protein sources such as game meat – we are lucky to have an abundance of kangaroo as a more sustainable protein alternative in Australia. If you’re feeling even more adventurous, you could also try some insects.

This guide is a starting point for thinking about a more sustainable diet, but food systems are incredibly complex. Animal welfare and the viability of farming communities are just part of the social and economic issues we much deal with.

The ConversationUltimately, while consumers can drive change, this will be incremental: transformative change can only be achieved by food producers and retailers also coming on board to drive a more sustainable food system.

Michalis Hadjikakou, Research fellow, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science, Engineering & Built Environment, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Healthy microbes make for a resilient Great Barrier Reef


Maxine Gatt, The Conversation

Healthy microbes make for a healthy coral reef. And if that microbiological community is disrupted by overfishing, pollution or climate change, it can contribute to the decline of reefs.

A three-year study
published this month in Nature Communications, conducted on a reef in the Florida Keys, United States, has shed light on how microbes living on corals are instrumental to keeping coral reefs healthy, and how overfishing, pollution and climate change can destabilise the coral’s natural defence and disrupt ecological communities.

According to the lead author of the study Dr Rebecca Thurber, from Oregon State University, healthy corals normally recover easily from small injuries, such as fish bites.

“In our experiment, 100% of the corals bitten in normal waters recovered. But in the presence of elevated nutrients, 66% died after they were bitten by fish, showing that nutrient pollution increases the vulnerability of corals to normal every day events,” she said.

Although this study focused on Caribbean ecosystems, it can inform threats to the Great Barrier Reef, said Dr Jon Brodie from James Cook University, who was not involved in the study.

Coral bleaching and warming ocean temperatures are already affecting tropical reefs, with coral cover already on the decline.

The addition of overfishing and nutrient pollution interact with the elevated temperatures creating more disease-causing bacteria, and this may make reefs less resilient to disruptive events such as cyclones.

According to Dr Zoe Richards, from Western Australian Museum, who was not involved in the study, the study shows “how easily an innocuous interaction like a fish feeding on a coral can turn deadly in overfished and polluted habitats, especially in summer”.

Adding protection

The results suggest it’s especially important to manage overfishing around important reefs, says Richards. This will help sustain the population of fish that feed on microbes that might otherwise increase in numbers and disrupt the normal microbial ecology.

“This will help suppress algal overgrowth and blooms of harmful bacteria, which are major drivers of coral mortality,” said Richards.

Another strategy to protect reefs is to protect the environment around them.

“Rehabilitating catchment areas, preventing clearing and erosion, along with protecting natural waterways and limiting herbicide and pesticide run-off are integral components of reducing nutrient pollution,” said Richards.

Even though climate change is warming the Great Barrier Reef, reducing the impact of other stressors could help maintain a healthy microbial balance.

“If we reduce ocean pollution and ensure that there are abundant fishes to remove the algae on reefs, corals can likely tolerate some increases in water temperatures,” said Thurber

The Conversation

Maxine Gatt, Editor, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How healthy is your river? Ask a waterbug


Angus Webb, University of Melbourne

Changing wildlife: this article is part of a series looking at how key species such as bees, insects and fish respond to environmental change, and what this means for the rest of the planet.

In 2003, something seemed to be going wrong with the streams around Melbourne. After seven years of below-average rainfall, the aquatic macroinvertebrates – waterbugs – were telling us that something was changing.

In a small number of streams that had been sampled every year, the community of waterbugs seemed to be moving towards dominance by species normally associated with severe environmental impacts.

That was when I became involved. Using an expanded data set and statistical analyses, I demonstrated a widespread decline in ecological condition of Melbourne streams as the Millennium drought really began to bite.

This is an example of using waterbugs for biomonitoring – assessing environmental condition, its changes, and the causes of those changes, by sampling organisms directly. And around the world, waterbugs are the most widely used bioindicator of environmental health and pollution of rivers, lakes and wetlands.

A small diving beetle from a common family Dytiscidae.
John Gooderham and Eddie Tsyrlin in The Waterbug Book

What makes waterbugs so popular?

First, they are very easy to sample. With a pair of waders, a dip net, a sorting tray and a magnifying glass, anybody can observe these weird, wonderful, and often beautiful creatures.

They are everywhere in aquatic systems. Every river, lake and wetland is teeming with waterbugs of all different kinds. Different species are typical of different types of environments and different levels of human impacts.

Most Mayflies, for instance, are found in rivers with clear waters and little pollution – they are indicative of good environmental health.

In contrast, Chironomids (a type of midge), are highly tolerant of pollution and other disturbances, and so come to dominate environments that have been heavily-affected by humans.

Chironomids are a type of midge that can indicate pollution.
John Gooderham and Eddie Tsyrlin in The Waterbug Book

Waterbugs are a direct indicator of environmental impact. If they change, then some difference in the environment has caused it. In contrast, a water quality sample is an indirect indicator of impact. It may detect pollutants in a river, but we do not know if the concentrations are environmentally important.

They also integrate the effects of environmental conditions over time. Waterbug lifespans are relatively short – usually only a few months before aquatic larvae metamorphose into adults and leave the river. They also don’t move too much. Therefore, changes in the bugs found at a site are indicative of impacts over recent times, and this gives a much more complete picture compared to spot samples of environmental conditions, such as water quality readings.

For these reasons, waterbugs have been successfully used to detect environmental impacts of many kinds.

As well as the example above, I have detected impacts of trout farms on waterbugs in the Goulburn Valley, Victoria, and have developed new ways of assessing whether the waterbugs at a site differ from those that would be expected in the absence of human impacts. Currently, we are using waterbugs to assess benefits of environmental water being delivered by the Commonwealth and Victorian environmental water holders as part of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

A mayfly nymph (Atalophlebia sp) from family Leptophlebiidae. This genus is probably the most tolerant of this sensitive family.
John Gooderham and Eddie Tsyrlin in The Waterbug Book

But there also are difficulties

While the diversity of waterbug species makes them very useful as indicators of environmental health, there are so many species that many have never even been properly described.

Only experts can identify waterbugs to species, but fewer and fewer people are interested in studying invertebrate taxonomy and so the pool of expertise is shrinking.

Waterbug abundance is also incredibly variable over very small spatial scales (less than a square metre). There can easily be as much variation within a site as there is between sites or even between rivers.

For these reasons, bugs often only are identified to coarse taxonomic levels (usually Family). Many assessment methods also ignore abundances altogether, instead concentrating on waterbug taxonomic diversity. This means that we’re missing out on a lot of potentially useful information contained within the samples.

Change is in the wind

The basic techniques used in waterbug-based research and monitoring have changed very little for decades.

However, the relatively new field of environmental genomics may change all this. Environmental genomics is the study of DNA and RNA in environmental samples to understand biological structure, function, and responses.

It uses genetic approaches to identify the species in a sample. The cost of the genetic techniques has decreased rapidly, just as their speed has increased. This means large numbers of samples can be processed rapidly.

A snail (Austropeplea tomentosa) typically found in slow flowing and still waters, grazing on algae from hard surfaces. It can indicate pollution.
John Gooderham and Eddie Tsyrlin in The Waterbug Book

The analyses identify all the different genetic types in a sample, effectively identifying everything to species. This eliminates the need for taxonomic expertise to identify species.

Genetic analyses are even challenging our traditional notion of what constitutes a species, with many physically identical animals now being identified as separate genetic lineages, effectively multiple species.

Like any new technique, there are issues to deal with before genomic techniques can be used in place of the well-established waterbug biomonitoring approaches.

For example, when we process a sample, we do not only get DNA from the waterbugs in it, but also from what they have eaten, and what is living on their surfaces. Are all of these separate “species” to be considered in biodiversity indices?

Nevertheless, environmental genomic techniques have the potential to greatly increase the amount of waterbug data that can be collected, providing much better coverage of aquatic systems.

Together with large-scale, remotely sensed environmental data that are now becoming the norm, this has the potential to move bioassessment into the era of big data.

And together, these things could fundamentally change the way we use waterbugs to monitor stream health and pollution.

The Conversation

Angus Webb is Senior Research Fellow and quantitative ecologist at University of Melbourne.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Earth Day: April 22


Earth Day is about the earth and the people who live on it. The Earth Day Network believes that all people, no matter who they are, have a right to a healthy and sustainable environment. Those who support Earth Day are a veritable who’s who of environmentalism. The network not only educates and increases awareness of environmental issues, it also actively seeks to bring about change in order to achieve a healthy and sustainable environment.

Earth Day is celebrated on the 22nd April each year, with supporters getting involved in all manner of environmentally responsible activities.

Find out more about Earth Day and the Earth Day Network at:

http://www.earthday.org/