Health & Diet

Campaign for plant-based diets could prove very disruptive

Last year saw the launch of a new global campaign and road show to transform the global food system by encouraging people and Governments to adopt the principals and practice of a plant-based diet.

The campaign is jointly run by EAT, a global non-profit start-up with deep pockets and a ‘Who’s Who’ of influential friends, and The Lancet journal which has published EAT’s first full scientific review of what constitutes ‘a healthy diet from a sustainable food system’.

They are calling for a 90% reduction in meat consumption with a target level of beef and pork consumption of just 7g per day. Dairy foods would be restricted to 250g, which is equal to one glass of milk per day. They are also calling for a meat tax.

While it may sound like other campaigns you’ve seen, this one may well prove to pack a much, much bigger punch.

Our concern is that certain issues surrounding meat consumption could be overstated, and yet still gain massive traction from EAT’s global campaign. This could easily create a false impression of scientific consensus and encourage an anti-livestock narrative.

Already, the EAT Lancet Commission seems to be depicting livestock farming as a static activity that’s incapable of evolving to reduce it’s environmental impact. It conveniently ignores the many initiatives and technological advancements happening right now in farming.

It also down plays the much-needed nutritional benefit of animal protein in the human diet and the important part it plays in feeding the world’s populations.

On a more cynical note, the campaign could open the door for new (and old) players in food and agriculture to capitalise on a lucrative new market, and for Governments to eye new tax opportunities in an attempt to curb meat eating.

This, of course, is a somewhat speculative scenario at this point. However, if the campaign does gain substantial traction, the ‘super-funding’ that such initiatives would get from global producers, advertisers and Governments would substantially alter the debate and potentially skew public opinion with one-sided but persuasive arguments.

Ultimately we could see changes in Government policy and legislation, something which is already happening in Canada where the Government is preparing to release new dietary guidelines that recommend a massive move towards plant-based diets.

Frédéric Leroy, President of the Belgian Association for Meat Science and Technology sounds a note of caution, saying: “What starts as academic and scientific debates becomes political arguments that are dangerously simplistic and may have several detrimental consequences for both health and the environment.”

Two sided debate

There are always two sides to every argument and it’s important to understand that the claims that EAT are putting forward are not all backed-up by the ‘sound science’ they claim on their website. Nor do they always explain how their goals can practically be met.

The European Animal Task Force (ATF) explains that: “On agricultural efficiency, the report claims that ‘sustainable food production for about 10 billion people should use no additional land, safeguard existing biodiversity, reduce consumptive water use…produce zero carbon dioxide emissions, and cause no further increase in methane and nitrous oxide emissions.’ These goals are hugely ambitious, but the report fails to make any persuasive case as to how they would be achieved.”

The ATF also point out that: “The report sets a target to ‘reduce food loss and waste by 50% to decrease pressure on food demand.’ Ironically, however, EAT-Lancet’s proposals for people to ditch meat in favour of fruit and vegetables could in fact increase food waste.

“According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 40-50% of fruit and veg is wasted while only 20% of meat/dairy is wasted. More fruit and veg production means even more food waste. Food waste already accounts for 8% of global emissions.”

The health argument

On the health side of the equation, again, we must be careful when drawing conclusions on which to base policy decisions. CLITRAVI point to something that we see happening time and again in newspapers, blog articles and on social media:

“The conclusions of the EAT Lancet report on the health impact of processed meat products are based once more on inadequate evidence, as well as on the extrapolation of data to causal interpretations, without taking into account that obesity and non-communicable diseases are multifactorial matters. Maintaining a balanced diet and regular exercise is important for all individuals and can make the difference.”

While we at BMPA advocate a balanced diet that includes animal protein, our main aim is to ensure that the debate remains balanced and that basic, scientifically proven facts from both sides of the fence are given due consideration by both Governments and consumers alike.

About the author

Anna Barnes specialises in strategic communications consultancy for member associations and trade bodies across multiple sectors as a partner at Ooda. Part of her remit is to get under the surface of complex and technical industry issues and distil them into clear communications that builds influence and profile for her clients. She has worked with BMPA since 2017.