Sustainability criteria increasingly taken up in dietary guidelines

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pain avril 2017There is increased attention to the impact of food production and consumption. In an effort to reduce the environmental impact of food production and consumption, some countries, non-governmental and charitable organisations as well as civil society movements have developed dietary recommendations that are considered more sustainable.

Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK have already included sustainability in their dietary recommendations. Such recommendations could include for example increased consumption of plant foods, a focus on local foods or reduction of food waste.

The Nordic guidelines categorise butter a “High impact” (> 4 kg CO2e/kg) where vegetable oils (olive, rape) are considered “medium” (1- 4 kg CO2e/kg). They particularly highlight that palm oil, when produced sustainably, can have a low climate impact due to the high efficiency of its production. The Netherlands and the UK both explicitly recommend soft margarines over butter for both dietary reasons and sustainability of the food system.

They note that the one hand, some current practices are putting the natural environment under stress and contribute to climate change. On the other hand, consumption patterns are often unhealthy and unfair: over consumption and food waste coexist with under nutrition.

As the EU Commission Standing Committee on Agricultural Research (SCAR) already recognised, a more sustainable diet is also a healthier diet. Protecting human health and environment go hand in hand. For switching from butter and hard margarines to soft margarines and cooking fats not only reduces the environmental impact of food, it also reduces the intake of saturated fats.

With an estimated population of approximately 9 billion people by 2050 and continuing degradation of the planet’s resources, the need to produce more food in a sustainable way is more important than ever. A shift to more sustainable food systems and diets is needed to protect people’s health and that of the planet while ensuring food and nutrition security and the biodiversity of natural resources.

Sustainable diets are those diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources. 

FAO, 2010, Sustainable Diets and Biodiversity.

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