The recently released EAT-Lancet Commission report on “healthy diets from sustainable food systems” was a topic of conversation during the Iowa Pork Congress in Des Moines, Iowa, with thoughts and concerns presented related to the commission’s global dietary recommendations.
Essentially, the EAT-Lancet Commission is advocating, among other things, a dramatic reduction in the consumption of meat and animal products as a way of improving human health and minimizing the environmental impact related to food production. In fact, the commission is seeking a 90% reduction in recommended animal-based protein consumption and has implied that it is willing to take the necessary steps to mandate such consumption levels through “laws, fiscal measures, subsidies and penalties, trade reconfiguration and other economic and structural measures.”
EAT is a global, nonprofit start-up with the stated mission of transforming the global food system. The Lancet is a weekly medical journal owned by Elsevier. The EAT-Lancet Commission is one of several reports on nutrition being published by The Lancet in 2019. The next commission will be The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition & Climate Change. Funding for the EAT-Lancet Commission study is coming from the Wellcome Trust and EAT. The Stockholm Resilience Centre was the scientific coordinator of the report.
“I’m don’t mean to scare you, but I want you to wake up,” said Frank Mitloehner, University of California-Davis professor and air quality specialist. He made his comment after asking the packed room if they were aware of the EAT-Lancet report, and only a few hands went up.
“As a consumer, I look at the amount of the animal-based protein that is suggested, and I have to cringe, because what they are suggesting is no more than 7 g, which is a quarter-ounce of beef today. That is a teaspoon of beef per day -- the same amount for pork per day. On the egg side, 1.5 eggs per week. So, as a consumer, I look at these numbers, and I have concerns,” Mitloehner said.
One of the areas where Mitloehner agrees with the EAT-Lancet recommendation is on food waste. “We have about 40% food waste in this country and 40% food waste in the world. These are unacceptable levels,” he said.
While every rational person would likely agree that too much food is wasted, Mitloehner said the path for a solution that EAT is seeking with its recommendations is fundamentally flawed. “We need to reduce food waste, but the way they are proposing to change the diet would increase food waste, as they suggest a drastic increase in fruits and vegetables. Everyone knows that fruits and vegetables are perishable, and currently, fruits and vegetables in a country like the U.S. are wasted at 50% and more," he said. In comparison, animal-based products are wasted at a 20% rate. “So, if you want to reduce food waste, the way not to get there is by increasing those food items that are very perishable,” Mitloehner said.
The EAT-Lancet report showed a lack of difference across the environmental side of various diets. Even the business-as-usual diet, which is the one currently consumed in the U.S., is not different from vegetarian or vegan diets or the reference diet (which is the preferred EAT-Lancet diet), Mitloehner said.
The only thing found to differ between diets was greenhouse gases (GHGs), but Mitloehner explained that the EAT-Lancet calculations have some fundamental flaws as well. “The first one is that they view methane differently from the rest of the world. For example, most people would use the global warming potential for methane as 28. Eat-Lancet, not so. They use the number 56, so they doubled the potency of methane, and that makes everything that produces methane look twice as bad as it really is. Secondly, they don’t acknowledge that methane is not just produced but methane also is destroyed, mainly at almost the same rate. They only talk about what is produced, and they don’t talk about what is destroyed and is dishonest,” he said.
The EAT-Lancet report advocates that the majority of land being grazed globally should be converted into crop use, but 70% of agricultural land is marginal land, land where either the soil condition is too poor or there isn’t enough water to grow crops. As a result, the only use for that 70% of agricultural land is for ruminant livestock.
“If we were to forego meat -- which, by and large, is what they are suggesting -- by reducing our animal-based foods by 90%, we would lose the use of the vast majority of agricultural land for food production. That is taking things in the wrong direction,” Mitloehner said. Rather, he said the use of all agricultural land globally needs to be intensified to satisfy the 2050 challenge, which is to satisfy the nutritional needs of a human population that has tripled from 3 billion to 9.5 billion. “In my opinion, foregoing the use of 70% of agricultural land, which is marginal for food production, is irresponsible,” Mitloehner said.
In its report, the commission states that “the scale of change to the food system is unlikely to be successful if left to the individual or the whim of consumer choice. This change requires reframing at the population and systemic level. By contrast, hard policy interventions include laws, fiscal measures, subsidies and penalties, trade reconfiguration and other economic and structural measures.” The mere suggestion of such an approach caused some to become concerned by how far the EAT-Lancet Commission is willing to go to push its anti-animal agriculture agenda.
“To me, the approach they are taking is not one of choice. They will not give you the choice of what you want to eat. They would either like to see public policy or taxation or social pressure be deployed in order to make you eat what they think is healthy. I fundamentally disagree with that approach,” Mitloehner said.
“People who try to impose their beliefs on others should really step back and think about what it is they are doing. I understand that we have global challenges, but I know that we can meet these challenges by working together rather than working against each other,” Mitloehner said, adding that the approach being proposed is an unethical one.