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Livewell - healthy eating for a slimline planet

30 January 2011

WWF launches guidelines for a diet that will benefit both our health and our environment

WWF has today released a new report, “Livewell - a balance of healthy and sustainable food choices” that outlines a first full assessment of a diet that is both healthy and sustainable. Using the government’s own nutritional guidelines as a base, the report, commissioned from the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health (University of Aberdeen) illustrates some surprisingly simple tweaks to our daily eating choices that if followed, would improve national health, reduce the impact of our eating habits on the natural world and help the UK meet it’s targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
The food we eat – growing, producing and processing it – has a massive impact on the planet. If ecosystems like forests are cut down to grow crops or food, this can have serious consequences for species and habitats. Ecosystems such as the forests and savannahs of the Cerrado, Borneo and the Amazon also have a vital role in areas such as climate regulation or flood prevention. Furthermore, food is responsible for 30% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions (including those resulting from land-use change/deforestation), and a major contributor to the global overshoot of natural resource consumption. WWF’s 2010 Living Planet report found that our demand on natural resources had doubled since 1966 and that globally, we’re using the equivalent resources of 1.5 planets to support our activities.
So, to avoid climate change, conserve the ecosystems on which we depend and protect our lifestyles and wellbeing, it is clear that we have to tackle both what we produce and consume. Today’s Livewell report outlines principles for consumers that are simple and avoid any radical changes to diet. We are advised to:
•           Eat more fruit, vegetables and cereals (especially regionally grown, in season)
•           Eat less meat (meat of all kinds – red and white – are a “hotspot” in terms of environmental impact)
•           Eat less highly-processed foods which tend to be more resource intensive to produce
WWF’s head of campaigns, Colin Butfield, comments:
“If we want to protect the species and forests that are at the heart of WWF’s work, then we have to fundamentally change our food system. Today’s report gives a picture of a way of eating that is good for the planet and good for your health too. For some, it might even be cheaper. This is not a radical proposal – it’s a diet that contains meat or fish every day and that includes everything from chicken curry to macaroni cheese.”
“When you look at what we eat it’s quickly evident that there are major overlaps between what’s healthy for the planet and what’s healthy for people. This is a win/win that should be exploited fully. By producing the Livewell plate, WWF hopes to stimulate constructive debate and catalyse action by government and retailers to promote sustainable eating habits. When you add up the costs to the environment, health services and to people’s wellbeing it is astounding that this isn’t being tackled with more vigour.”
To progress this work WWF believes that the UK government, in partnership with the food retail sector and other groups, need to build upon this work and urgently develop and promote sustainable eating habits based on a sustainable diet – which will also help start to reverse the impacts that poor nutritional choices have on people’s health and wellbeing.
The report shows that achieving healthy and sustainable diets is about balancing the foods we eat, not eliminating any. Colin Butfield comments:
“The debate on the environmental impacts of food has often been polarised around meat-eating versus vegetarianism. This is unhelpful. Certainly livestock is a hotspot in terms of environmental impact but what we should be debating is sustainable versus unsustainable food choices. This is about balancing our diet, not necessarily eliminating foods.”
Today’s Livewell report provides a starting point for understanding healthy sustainable diets, with future work needed to integrate wider issues of sustainability into the modelling process and to develop broader dietary advice.
For the full report please visit www.wwf.org.uk/livewell2020 or contact the WWF-UK press office on 01483 412 383 for more details, images or interviews.
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Editor's notes
1.                  Current dietary advice is based on nutrient recommendations for health. These recommendations have been translated by the Food Standards Agency into a health education tool for the public, known as the Eatwell plate. The plate illustrates the proportion of major food groups that should be included in a healthy diet. It is now recognised that this advice now needs to be extended to integrate sustainability.
2.                 The Climate Change Act 2008 set out targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE). In the UK, the food we eat – growing, producing and importing it – has a massive impact around the world and is responsible for 30% of our CO2 emissions (including emissions resulting from deforestation/land-use change – WWF-UK report How low can we go? 26 January 2010). In response to climate change the WWF-UK One Planet Food Programme (2009-12) set goals to reduce GHGE from the consumption and production of food destined for the UK by 25% by 2020 and by 70% by 2050 (based on 1990 emission levels). This will require changes to both the supply side (food production) and the demand side (food consumption) within the food supply chain.
3.         The main questions addressed in the report were as follows:
·        What are the nutrient intake and the GHGE of the diet of the UK population?
·        What  would  the  Livewell  plate  and  diet  look  like  if  they  met  both  current  nutrient recommendations and the 2020 target of a 25% reduction in GHGE?
·        Is  it  possible  to  achieve  a  diet  with  70%  reductions  in  GHGE  by  2050  and  still  meet  current nutrient recommendations?
4.         In additions to the principles in the report, WWF also recommends that people should:
·         Minimise food waste – 40% of food ends up in the bin or in landfill
·         Buy fish certified as MSC – to ensure that it comes from well-managed sources
·         Be careful to buy products containing sustainably-sourced palm oil
5.                 If everyone used natural resources and generated carbon emissions at the rate we do in the UK we would need three planets to support us. The way we live is leading to environmental threats such as climate change, species extinction, deforestation, water shortages and the collapse of fisheries. WWF’s One Planet Future Campaign is working to help people live a good quality of life within the earth’s capacity. For more information visit www.wwf.org.uk/oneplanet
For further information, please contact:
George Smeeton, tel: 01483 412 388, email: gsmeeton@wwf.org.uk

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