‘Planetary health diet’ recommends 80 per cent less red meat

Food and environment experts have created a diet that will both save and feed the world

Colourful fruit, vegetables, grains and legumes

It isn’t just individuals who depend on a balanced and nutritious diet – Earth demands it as well. Too much meat is not only bad for the health of our rapidly increasing global population, but also for the globe on which we live.

That’s why scientists have put together a “planetary health diet” – a first-of-its-kind recommendation of the kind of food we should be eating, and how much or little of it, to ensure the environmental wellbeing of the world. And it’s no surprise to find that red meat is still public enemy No 1.

As part of the eco-aware diet, consumption of the most environmentally destructive meat needs to fall by 50 per cent worldwide, and by more than 80 per cent in developed countries such as the UK and US. A World Resources Institute report launched in December at the UN Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland, also concluded that heavy beef and lamb-eating nations needed to ratchet back their red-meat-eating, albeit by a smaller percentage.

The diet, published in the Lancet medical journal, was created by the Eat-Lancet Commission: 37 health, environmental and economic experts from 16 countries. The commission’s co-leader, Professor Johan Rockstrom of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said the diet would “nurture human health and support environmental sustainability” – but would also require “nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution”.

One its authors, Professor Tim Lang of City University of London, said world food systems need be overhauled. “We are currently getting this seriously wrong. [We need to be] changing the global food system on a scale not seen before in ways appropriate to each country’s circumstances.”

Using statistics to model the perfect diet that will keep everyone fed and limit the effects of man-made climate change, it seems we need to be gaining 35 per cent of our calories from whole grains and tubers, and most of our protein from sources other than animals. That means eating significantly less meat and dairy, and significantly more fruit, vegetables, nuts and legumes, the scientists said. In fact, the scientists believe meat should be eaten only once a week or even fortnight, rather than dominating every meal.

Other changes include: changing our shopping habits; cutting food waste by 50 per cent; developing no new agricultural land – a particular problem in environmentally sensitive areas such as the Amazon basin; abolishing subsidies for livestock farming and fishing; and expanding marine conservation zones.

Read the report