Spurned into action by the looming dangers of climate change, a group of 37 scientists published a major study in the medical journal The Lancet on Jan. 16 that provides guidelines for a global diet that calls on humans to consume less beef and sugar, while increasing their intake of vegetables and nuts.
Though the advice might not be news to some people, the study is notable for synthesizing human healthcare with climate change, two fields that were previously looked at independently. According to the study, if humans began consuming less red meat and closely followed the advice listed in the report, it could save an estimated 11 million people from premature deaths a year while cutting down on our carbon footprint (agriculture currently contributes to 30 percent of human global greenhouse gas emissions). However, the report has already drawn criticism from the livestock industry, who say the report undervalues the importance of meat in a balanced diet.
“The [EAT-Lancet] Commission's radical recommendations to drastically limit meat and dairy consumption would have serious, negative consequences for the health of people and the planet,” Kay Johnson Smith, president of the Animal Agriculture Alliance wrote in a statement. “The EAT-Lancet recommendations (for example, to eat just a quarter ounce of beef per day and drink just one cup of milk) risk worsening malnutrition, increasing food waste, and distracting from the highest priorities for addressing greenhouse gas emissions. The science about the best path forward is clear — meat and dairy are critical to high-quality nutrition, less food waste, and efficient use of our precious natural resources.”
This sort of opposition from the meat industry could make it difficult for the diet to be implemented in a way that will have a real impact on climate change, according to Atlantic Senior Editor Corby Kummer. Kummer said that the diet will need to be coupled with some form of government regulations, and that the regulations would need to be global as well, pointing out that tobacco companies sought to move their business to foreign markets when the United States began to impose more regulations.
“It has to be international,” Kummer said on Boston Public Radio Tuesday. “They have to be hit where they live with profits. Tobacco went to Morocco, North Africa, then to Sub-saharan Africa, and undercut every other rival. Moved in with its very addictive Marlboros, where they could find a new market and make it cheap and it was less regulated.”
Kummer feels, however, this may be easier to implement in theory than in practice, since he’s unsure what kind of regulation could be passed to limit the consumption of beef. Kumer said he's certain that any kind of oversight would be met with stark political pushback, especially from legislators from states like Nebraska and Kansas, where livestock is one of their top producing industries.
“How do you outlaw that? How do you impose restrictions on beef producers in Nebraska for example?” Kummer said.