“What, and how much we eat directly affects what, and how much is produced. We therefore need to consume more “sustainable diets” – diets that have lower environmental impacts, and are healthier.”
In the UK we are consuming more than our fair share of food and therefore natural resources. We have developed a food system that gives us access to a seemingly limitless and cheap range of food, all year around. As a nation we over consume meat and animal products, as well as processed foods high in fat, sugar and salt and approximately a third of the population are overweight or obese. There are clear synergies between dietary patterns that are better for both health and the environment.
We need to shift our consumption patterns to those that support a global food system that is more sustainable, healthier and just. This is a highly complex scientific and political challenge, which will require joint action from many different parties. Health professionals have an important role in advocating for this transition.
On the 17th March 2016, for the first time in 20 years, the UK updated their national dietary guidelines. Whilst the new Eatwell Guide, has made some effort to incorporate environmental considerations and put more of an emphasis on the need to move towards more plant-based diets – there are no explicit links drawn between our food and environmental sustainability. You can read Medact’s full response to these new guidelines here.
Other countries, such as Sweden, Germany and most recently the Netherlands, have gone much further to incorporate clear messaging around environmental sustainability into their dietary guidelines. In the UK the Green Food Project, set up by the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs, drafted principles for more sustainable and healthy dietary patterns. These were designed to sit alongside the dietary guidelines but never gained any official status.
Medact is working with the Eating Better Alliance and Food Climate Research Network amongst other organisations to raise awareness of the environmental impact of current food production and consumption practices, and to promote healthy, sustainable and ethical food systems. We are also working to engage the health community on issues of dietary sustainability, and to encourage them to add their voice to advocacy efforts calling for dietary guidelines that more adequately and explicitly incorporate sustainability.