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Where nutrients and protein sourced from livestock remain vital—Crawford Fund

Standing Child (Stehendes Kind) by Erich Heckel, 1910.

‘Coinciding with the launch of the EAT-Lancet “Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems” report, Dr Colin Chartres, the [Crawford] Fund’s CEO, . . . discusses the importance of ‘smart foods’ and smart people for a healthy population and planet.

‘In late January the Eat-Lancet Foundation released its Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems report. Its headline message is:

“Transformation to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts. Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50%. A diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.”

‘Whilst this message is not exactly new—the late Professor Tony McMichael from ANU [Australian National University] had been a long-time advocate of the environmental benefits of healthier dietary habits for over four decade—in my mind the growing effects on individuals’ health from obesity related diseases perhaps make the current arguments even more compelling given the fact that there are now about 2 billion over-nourished individuals worldwide, not just in the developed countries. . . .

‘So just what is the EAT-Lancet Commission’s Healthy diet? To improve the health of people and the planet, they have developed a “planetary health diet” which they say is globally applicable—irrespective of your geographic, economic or cultural background—and locally adaptable. . . .

‘If adopted by 2050 it would mean a doubling of the intake of cereals, fruits, legumes and nuts and a 50% reduction in global consumption of less healthy foods such as added sugars and red meat, particularly in western countries. The Eat-Lancet Commission argues that by adoption of a healthy diet, combined with halving food waste globally and more sustainable production practices we can reduce CO2 emissions by half to almost 100%, and reduce pressure from agriculture on land, water resources and biodiversity.

To a considerable extent the report ignores the significant role that income and protein from livestock plays for hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers.

In many developing countries consumption of animal protein is already very limited due to cost and many women suffer from mild or moderate anaemia, and stunting in children is still common.

Red meat, eggs and dairy products are a vital source of iron and other critical nutrients in their diets.

The diets of the bottom billion of global society clearly need enhancing nutritionally and diversifying, and protein sourced from livestock is vital to them.

‘. . . Having read the EAT-Lancet Commission report and attended the ICRISAT workshop set me thinking about the daunting challenges of both saving the planet and preventing obesity related diseases. Whilst changing human behaviour is difficult, it can be done based on sound continuing education from an early age. In comparison, researching the improvements required in specific crops, sustainable intensification and developing value chains is somewhat easier, but does require ongoing public and private funding.

‘Recent cutbacks to the CG[IAR] system and public sector, agricultural R&D across the world are an indication that policy makers have not yet grasped the seriousness of the food and associated planetary challenges ahead. These challenges to the planet are daunting. The challenges to public sector health budgets are only just beginning to be understood.

‘We need to foster a new generation willing to take these on. Consequently, one area that the Crawford Fund will be focusing even more on in the next couple of years is demonstrating to the next generation that not only are careers in the agriculture- food continuum exciting, but that the work is vital to saving the planet!

‘So in answer to my question in the article title—smart foods are vital, but smart people even more so, if we are going to stay healthy and save the planet!’

Read the whole opinion piece by Colin Chartres: How smart are ‘smart foods’?, Crawford Fund News, Jan 2019.

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