How to save people and planet by changing your diet
Home » Planet-Based Diets
Published: 10 October 2020
This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod
If the UK switched to a diet lower in animal products, the nation could reduce its food-related biodiversity loss by 34%, greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 55% and early deaths by 20%, according to new research by WWF.
The conservation charity has launched Planet-Based Diets, a new approach to making food choices that can help ensure a healthy planet as well as healthy people.
The initiative offers a new customised online tool, to enable the adoption of healthy and sustainable planet-based diets at a national and individual level.
Adopting such eating patterns has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, wildlife loss by up to 46% and premature deaths by at least 20%.
The Planet-Based Diets Impact & Action Calculator will allow individuals and governments to assess the individual and national impacts of their diets on eight human and environmental health indicators – such as biodiversity loss, water use, land use and greenhouse gas emissions.
It is customised across 13 food groups – from grains to dairy, sugar to red meat – and built on bespoke datasets and analysis for 147 countries.
The tool calculates that a diet rich in meat and dairy in the UK would use far more grazing land and produce more greenhouse gas emissions than a vegan diet.
Farming and disease
Against the backdrop of the ongoing pandemic, it has become more important than ever to adopt healthier and more considered diets.
The major drivers of emerging infectious disease, such as Covid-19, have been shown to be the unsustainable conversion of land for agriculture, intensive livestock farming and illegal trade in wildlife, often for human consumption. EU diets and food supply chains are huge drivers of nature loss both in Europe and further afield.
Globally, the EU is responsible for over 10% of forest destruction through its consumption of imported commodities like soy for animal feed, palm oil, coffee and cacao.
Transforming food systems
WWF’s recent Living Planet Report 2020 revealed nature is in freefall, with average global wildlife populations declining by 68% in less than 50 years.
Intensive agriculture, deforestation and the conversion of wild spaces into farmland to feed global populations are among the main causes of that catastrophic nature loss.
Our global food system is responsible for 70% of biodiversity loss on land and 50% in freshwater, and more than a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the way we produce and consume our food.
An urgent UK and global response is needed to transform our existing food systems before the damage to nature and our health is irreversible.
‘We are facing a climate and wildlife crisis – nature is in freefall and the things we eat and the way we farm is driving that. It is crucial to understand where food consumed in the UK is produced, and how that affects carbon levels and biodiversity loss.
‘Changing our diets is a powerful way of reducing national greenhouse gas emissions and this tool could help us all do that. The UK Government must also urgently raise the ambition of our National Dietary Guidelines to ensure they are in line with global health and environmental targets.’
Food systems sustainability manager, WWF
Longer, healthier lives
A new WWF report, Bending the Curve: The Restorative Power of Planet-Based Diets, will also help individuals and policymakers understand the health and environmental impact of their diets.
It found that transitioning to planet-based diets delivers significant human health benefits and lowers environmental impacts, including a more stable climate, less wildlife loss and more space for it to thrive – and, crucially, longer and healthier lives for people.
‘There is no one size fits all solution. For instance in some countries there needs to be a significant reduction in the consumption of animal-sourced foods, while in others an increase may be needed to tackle burdens of undernutrition. Health and the environment need to be considered together. Our Impact & Action Calculator will help countries to better understand the impacts of dietary shifts, so they can encourage all their citizens to adopt diets that are good for both people and the planet.’
WWF’s global food lead scientist and lead author of the report