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EAT-Lancet Report – Call for a “universal healthy reference diet”

Consideration of sustainable food production must also consider the other side of the equation – sustainable food consumption. On January 16, 2019, the EAT–Lancet Commission released its report Food in the Anthropocene: healthy diets from sustainable food systems. Among its key messages is that “Transformation to healthy diets from sustainable food systems is necessary to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, and scientific targets for healthy diets and sustainable food production are needed to guide a Great Food Transformation.” The report points out that absence of such targets has hindered efforts towards this necessary transformation – hence, it represents a major step in that direction. The “universal healthy reference diet” described in the report uses global scientific targets based “on the best evidence available for healthy diets and sustainable food production.”

The proposals would result in dramatic dietary shifts: reduction of global consumption of some foods (such as red meat, sugar and refined grains) by 50%, and an increase in consumption of other foods (such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts by roughly 100%. These figures vary by region, for example, the recommended daily intake for red meat is limited to 14 grams, which translates into significant reductions for those who eat a lot of meat already, but not for those whose diets could benefit from more animal protein.

As noted in the report, while almost 1 billion of the earth’s population go hungry, about 2 billion “eat too much of the wrong foods.” Thus, the universal healthy reference diet is about both planetary health and improved health for all. The report concludes that it is possible to feed a global population of nearly 10 billion people a healthy diet within food production boundaries by 2050 but that this will require a Great Food Transformation that can only be achieved “through widespread, multisector, multilevel action that includes a substantial global shift towards healthy dietary patterns, large reductions in food loss and waste, and major improvements in food production practices.” As succinctly put in the accompanying comment to the report, by Lucas and Horton, “humanity’s dominant diets are not good for us and they are not good for the planet.”

For the report, see


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