EAT-Lancet report: A discussion of the shift to a plant-based world


EAT-Lancet report: A discussion of the shift to a plant-based world

Vegan Society of Canada News, January 19th 2019

The 'planetary health diet' released by the EAT-Lancet commission is in many ways similar to what we had discussed before when Greenpeace released their own report in early 2018. Just like the other report there are some issues but we will not repeat them here. Overall, one of the major differences is Greenpeace calls for a 84% Canadian meat reduction in consumption while EAT-Lancet calls for a 73% reduction from current levels.

In this article we will explore all the implications of such major reduction in meat consumption. Just to get an idea of what a 73% reduction of meat looks like, the list below is a monthly planetary health diet intake per person considering average portion weight in Canadian grocery stores:

  • 1 rib steak per month
  • 3.3 boneless chicken breast per month
  • 1.9 fish filet per month

For milk, the reduction is also on the same order and equates to

  • 750 grams of cheese, or whole milk equivalent, per month

Below we will explore further what the trickle down effect of the planetary health diet and major meat reduction would be.

Schools and workplace cafeteria

There are only a few solutions regarding how we can implement this in schools.

  1. A family is plant-based at home and the children get their meat and dairy allocation through their school lunches.
  2. Schools will only have plant-based options and a family at home choose themselves when and what meat and dairy to eat.
  3. Hybrid system where parents and/or children and/or schools are expected to keep track of all this

Clearly #3 is the least practical solution of all. Furthermore, #1 is possible except that every child might want to have something different, not everyone is going to go for 750 grams of cheese per month, some will prefer ice cream, others butter and yet others cream. Therefore, it seems that having schools plant-based is not only the least costly to implement but is the best approach overall.

We would like to assume adults can manage their diet better but we know from the obesity crisis and malnourishment data that this is not the case. Thus, workplace cafeteria should be also plant-based.

Hidden meat and dairy in packaged foods and restaurants

Today there are animal products in about everything. It is very complicated and confusing for even the most experienced label reader to figure out which product contains or does not contain animal products. Thus a person could today, under the new planetary diet, go over their red meat allocation without even noticing. If our meat allocation is going to be just 1 steak per month, we are going to have to make sure things are labelled properly and the rest of what we eat is free from animal products.

Everything beside food will need to be animal-free

The only reason the consumer goods are not free of all animal products is because they are cheap due to their mass production. Once the animal agriculture slows down the price of animal by-products will skyrocket and animal-free alternatives will become the only option. The 4 to 5 gigatonne equivalent of C02 (GtCO2eq) produced by the planetary health diet all goes to food so there is no space to produce animal product for any other purpose. Therefore everything beside food will need to be animal-free. Items containing animal by-products will still exists but most likely in the realm of high-priced goods only. Things we use everyday will need to transition to animal-free alternatives.

Grocery stores

It is not illegal to advertise processed meat, which is classified as carcinogenic Group 1 by IARC, on the front page but it is at least unethical. The grocery stores will have to adjust and feature the plant-based food more prominently in their advertisements and in their stores. In addition, the portion size of animal product will have to be adjusted. One of the reason the portion of meat per month seems small is because the portion size actually sold at the store are so much bigger than they should be.

Restaurants

Restaurants will have to make big adjustments as well. They will not only have to adjust portion sizes but also menu items have to be clearly labelled with the proper nutritional information so people can make clear choices. Ideally, some forms of easy standards are developed based on the new nutritional guideline to give people a quick idea of how much animal product they are consuming. In addition, there will need to be more plant-based options with clear ingredients/nutritional informations so people can accurately calculate their meat and dairy consumptions. Furthermore, the culinary schools will have to adjust their curriculum in order to focus more on developing new plant-based recipes while limiting the use of meat and dairy.

Climate change emission budget

Revised number by the Climate Action Tracker now shows that if we want to be below 1.5°C before pre-industrial level we must stay below the median of 9 GtCO2eq in 2050. The EAT-Lancet commission proposal reduce our agriculture footprint from 9.8 GtCO2eq in 2050, which is clearly a problem, to between 4 and 5 GtCO2eq. Now the problem is that we have to figure out, in about 30 years, how to do everything we do and enjoy today which takes 51 GtCO2eq and make that fit in 9 GtCO2eq. It should now become clear that the challenges are not to be underestimated. The EAT-Lancet report calculated the impact of a plant-based diet on the climate as 1.5 to 2.1 GtCO2eq and see a balanced plant-based diet on par with the planetary health diet:

In a review, 33 the 2015 US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee concluded that for people older than 2 years, a balanced vegetarian diet can be a healthy eating pattern. In the largest prospective study 38 of vegetarian diets, people following vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, or semi- vegetarian diets had 12% lower overall mortality risk than did omnivores; the lowest risk was among pescatarian diets.

As we have said before, and will explore in further articles, there is some growing concerns with regards to the mercury and micro-plastics that are now prominently found in fish because of pollution. Micro-plastics could be a ticking time bomb since we have absolutely no idea what the effect on human health will be. In the EAT-Lancet report it seems evident that while a plant-based diet has the lowest impact on our environment the planetary health diet was built around compromise and the Pareto principle:

These findings suggest that a shift towards a dietary pattern emphasising whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes without necessarily becoming a strict vegan, will be beneficial.

While the planetary health diet probably has better odds of being adopted globally than a 100% plant-based diet, the emission budget will need to be taken from somewhere else. As we said before, our food is the easiest lever we can adjust if other area fails to deliver the reduction necessary to make it into our 9 GtCO2eq budget. We know that 2.5 GtCO2eq difference in today’s term means we would have to drive collectively 9,837,066,014,670 less kilometers. Just to put this in perspective, this means 9.8 trillion less kilometers per year. In other terms, even if all the citizens of the USA, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Denmark sold their cars and walked everywhere instead this would still not amount to a 2.5 GtCO2eq saving.

As a global community we may decide that this is a trade-off we would like to make in order to have 1 steak, 3.3 boneless chicken breast, 1.9 salmon fillet, and 750 grams of cheese or dairy equivalent per month. However, it is still a trade-off and this 2.5 GtCO2eq extra that we allocate to food so we do not all have to go plant-based, will require sacrifice somewhere else. Some may view adopting a vegan lifestyle as a radical or even impossible task without looking at the other side of the coin. Would we ask every citizen of all those countries to stop using their car and walk everywhere? Is this easier than everyone to adopt a plant-based diet?

To save our planet, it requires the collaborative effort of everyone. We are committed to help the world make a shift to a plant-based diet and goods free of animals products. How about you? What small or big step would you take today?