Would Giving Up Your Burger Increase Long-Term Food Security? A New Study Says Yes

A team of more than 30 scientists have developed a diet which is designed to feed a growing human population. The largely plant-based diet aims to feed 10 billion people by 2050 without damaging the planet or the world’s eco-systems. With human population placing a strain on resources, food insecurity is a significant concern, and one that often develops into conflict and migration.

Agriculture in itself creates a massive burden on the environment. Cows produce more harmful emissions than cars, and yet the global population relies on cows and other livestock for their daily dietary needs.

The team of nutrition and food policy scientists published a report in the British medical journal The Lancet, which recommends a largely plant-based diet, with only small, occasional allowances for meat, dairy, and sugar.

For three years, the scientists deliberated with the intent of creating recommendations that could be adopted by governments to meet the challenge of feeding a growing world population with food security becoming a rising concern and driving migration and conflict.

The new diet represents a shift for anyone who eats meat and dairy daily. Instead, they will need to get the majority of their protein from legumes (such as beans and lentils) and nuts. Chicken and fish are recommended no more than a couple of times a week, whereas for red meat the recommendation is for no more than one burger each week or one large steak per month. While the scientists recommend at least half of each meal to be made up of vegetables, not all are welcome, with the humble potato getting short shrift.

The new diet is also predicted to save lives and improve health. Unhealthy diets cause problems such as heart attacks, strokes and some cancers. These are now the biggest killers in developed countries.

A report on the diet in National Geographic notes that who eats less meat and where will vary. Jessica Fanzo, one of the report authors and professor of food policy and ethics at Johns Hopkins University, says meat consumption in the U.S., for instance, would have to go down and be replaced by fruits and vegetables. But other countries already facing poor nutrition could incorporate meat into roughly three percent of their diet.

Nuts – 50g a day

Beans, chickpeas, lentils and other legumes – 75g a day

Fish – 28g a day

Eggs – 13g a day

Meat – 14g a day of red meat and 29g a day of chicken

Carbs – whole grains like bread and rice 232g a day and 50g a day of starchy vegetables

Dairy – 250g – the equivalent of one glass of milk

Vegetables -(300g) and fruit (200g)

The diet allows for 31g of sugar and about 50g worth of oils like olive oil.

The report’s authors developed the diet by weighing different side-effects of food production including greenhouse gases, water and crop use, nitrogen or phosphorous from fertilizers, and the potential for biodiversity to suffer when areas are converted into farmland.

Many vegetable crops today are grown to feed livestock, which are then fed to humans. Cutting out the middle man, or rather cow, pig or sheep, would be a logical solution. People do not like being told what to do however, and any attempt by government to do so would not be vote-winning policy. Farmers and those who work in food production industries may also have something to say on the matter unless assistance is given to support those making a transition from meat or dairy farming to more sustainable and less environmentally harmful agriculture.

However unpalatable the idea may sound today, the time for action must be now, because if today’s generation ignores the advice of these scientists, tomorrow’s generation will not have the luxury of making choices and relatively small changes to their diet. If consumption continues at the current level, future generations will have to restrict population growth and make life changes with far reaching consequences. Much easier then to make adjustments to our diet now to secure the future for ourselves and others.

The threat of food shortage is not the stuff of science fiction, it is happening already and is a driver for famine, conflict, mass migration, and myriad environmental concerns which impact both the planet we live on and those who inhabit it.

As report author Fanzo says, “we’ll be in dire straits if no action is taken”.

Read the full report in The Lancet

Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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