Our Take on the EAT-Lancet Report: Time to Embrace Plant-Based Production and Consumption

EAT-Lancet Report On 16th January 2019 the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health released a report setting out “the first full scientific review of what constitutes a healthy diet from a sustainable food system, and what actions can support and speed up food system transformation.” The Commission is a group of “more than 30 world-leading scientists from across the globe” brought together to “reach a scientific consensus that defines a healthy and sustainable diet. https://eatforum.org/eat-lancet-commission/; https://www.thelancet.com/commissions/EAT Their report, Food in the Anthropocene, highlighted the critical need to shift away from using and consuming animals and to plant-based production and consumption if we are to avoid destroying the environment upon which we all (human and non-human) depend, and for the sake of human health. Summary of report: https://eatforum.org/eat-lancet-commission/eat-lancet-commission-summary-report/ Full report: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(18)31788-4/fulltext Our Response We are increasingly asked to comment in the media on vegan-related events, which is very positive as it gives us an opportunity to advocate for animal rights and draw attention to the intersecting issues of environmental destruction, global hunger and human health. Of course, very little of what we have to say ever makes it to print. If we can get one decent quotation into an article we've done well. We know this when we talk to journalists, but even if their article will have a narrow focus, the conversation is still an opportunity to draw their attention to the wider issues and hopefully positively influence future coverage.

The quotation used in the article covered some key points:

"Barbara Bolton, co-founder and volunteer with Go Vegan Scotland, welcomed the findings. She said: "Time will tell if governments will finally acknowledge the critical role of agriculture in climate change and environmental destruction and make the necessary policy changes. They should shift subsidies away from meat, dairy and eggs, tax those products, and use the funds to support plant-based agriculture, including veganic growing. Farmers should be helped to make this critical transition."

This is what we said about EAT-Lancet in full:

What is your reaction to the Lancet recommendations? – do you think it’s a watershed moment for the vegan movement to have such a major scientific study warning about the impact of our current animal-based diets on the planet and human health? [Link to report: https://eatforum.org/eat-lancet-commission/]

Vegan / Plant-Based "To answer this we firstly have to clarify the distinction between “vegan / veganism” and plant-based eating.

The vegan movement is the animal rights movement. Veganism means living in a way that respects the rights of non-human animals, by refusing to use them as things or pay someone to kill them for us. We don’t eat animals or anything taken from them, but we also don’t wear their skins, use them for “entertainment”, pay people to experiment on them, or buy them. A plant-based diet is only part of living vegan.

All vegans eat plant-based (because we don’t use or kill animals or pay others to do so for us); not everyone who eats plant-based is vegan. Many people who start eating plant-based for health and/or the environment then learn about animal rights and go vegan, rejecting all other forms of animal exploitation and killing.

The plant-based movement overlaps with the vegan movement. We have a moral obligation to recognise the rights of non-humans, not to be owned, used or killed. We also have a moral obligation to switch to plant-based production and consumption because of its devastating impact on the environment and its key role in world hunger. EAT-Lancet

Turning to your specific question, the Lancet study is the latest in a series of in-depth studies by groups of experts which confirm that we must switch to plant-based agriculture and consumption if we are to have any hope of halting our destruction of the planet.

The most notable studies stem back to 2006 when the UN FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) published Livestock’s Long Shadow. We then had the UNEP Environmental Impact of Consumption report in 2010 and the FAO’s Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock in 2013. (Links for your own reference 2006 http://www.fao.org/3/a-a0701e.pdf; 2010 http://www.unep.fr/shared/publications/pdf/DTIx1262xPA-PriorityProductsAndMaterials_Report.pdf; 2013 http://www.fao.org/3/a-i3437e.pdf).

These studies confirmed that animal agriculture produces more Greenhouse Gas emissions than all of worldwide transport combined, yet environmental groups continued to ignore the role of agriculture and focus on cars and planes.

In 2014 the film Cowspiracy (now available on Netflix) was released highlighting the urgent need for individuals to go plant-based and for the environmental community and governments to wake up. For environmental charities that has started to happen to some extent. For governments and industry we have seen little to no change.

In 2018 three significant reports were released. In May 2018 a University of Oxford study published in the journal Science confirmed that the single most important thing individuals can do to reduce their negative impact on the environment is eat plant-based. More so than reducing flights or car usage. They recommended subsidising plant agriculture and taxing meat and dairy. (see https://josephpoore.com/Science%20360%206392%20987%20-%20Accepted%20Manuscript.pdf ; Summarised in e.g.:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/31/avoiding-meat-and-dairy-is-single-biggest-way-to-reduce-your-impact-on-earth)

In October 2018 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change advised that we have only just over a decade to make the necessary changes if we’re to have any hope of avoiding devastation. (https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/). That same month an Oxford study was published in the journal Nature which emphasised that we must switch to plant-based agriculture and consumption to avoid environmental destruction and recommended that we align our dietary guidelines with that https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/news/201603_Plant_based_diets

The Lancet study is the latest in this series of reports by groups of experts, drawing in the results of thousands of studies, all of which confirm that we must transform our food system and shift to plant-based eating. What we take from Lancet

We welcome this study’s confirmation of the critical role of our food system in the destruction of the planet and the urgent need to shift away from using animals, instead focusing on plant-based production and consumption. We agree that we urgently need a radical transformation of our food system and we have been calling on the Scottish Government to recognise this in our submissions to every relevant consultation, and will be doing so again in the Good Food Nation consultation. We are also calling on the Scottish Government to guarantee plant-based food options in every public canteen and on every public menu in Scotland, schools, hospitals, local authorities etc. This petition is currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament Petition Committee. http://www.parliament.scot/GettingInvolved/Petitions/cateringforeveryone Portugal already has a similar law in place.

Many individuals have recognised our personal responsibility and switched to a plant-based diet. Time will tell if governments will finally acknowledge the critical role of agriculture in climate change and environmental destruction and make the necessary policy changes. They should shift subsidies away from meat, dairy and eggs, tax those products, and use the funds to support plant-based agriculture, including veganic growing. Farmers should be helped to make this critical transition. They should also align our eating guidelines with the latest reports, promoting plant-based consumption. Some countries are taking significant steps, such as Canada https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-new-draft-of-canadian-nutrition-guide-drops-to-three-food-groups/ (Canada is going to emphasise plant-based eating). Scotland has launched a Good Food Nation Bill, which gives us an opportunity to look at the whole food system in light of these reports and make bold changes in the interests of the environment, food justice, our health and animal rights. We must not be led by industry interests, instead industry must be assisted to make urgent changes.

It is very positive that the Lancet report highlights the need to ensure that plant food is “available, accessible and affordable” to all, something we have been highlighting to the Scottish Government, as well as the need to ensure everyone knows how to prepare delicious and nutritious meals with plant food. There needs to be more support for community farming and education.

They also highlight the disproportionate consumption of animal products in richer countries like ours. Animal agriculture plays a key role in world hunger and this report acknowledges that. We already produce enough plant food in the world to feed everyone and indeed the 10 billion population we anticipate. Huge amounts of food are wasted because of our consumption of animal products. We outbid lower income countries for their plant-food, taking it from them, feeding it through animals and reducing the available food at least ten times over."

- do you think they should have gone further and recommended cutting out animal products altogether?

The Issues With Lancet "It's disappointing that the experts behind this study did not have the courage to follow the data. All of the data points to a fully plant-based diet being the best diet for the environment, and all of the dietetics associations recognise that we don’t need to consume animal products for health, so why produce dietary recommendations that include any animal products? That makes no sense.

They confirm (page 15) that they are not proposing the optimal diet in terms of addressing our impact on the environment, they are only proposing a diet that will limit the risk of catastrophe, but (p 16) even a small increase in meat or dairy from what they recommend would jeopardise the goal of staying within a safe space. Why promote such a precarious situation when a fully plant-based system could put us squarely in a safe place?

Presumably they fear that people will baulk at the idea of a fully plant-based diet, but it is far better to set out clear goals that are consistent with their findings than to water them down and produce a potentially confusing set of recommendations.

They suggest a largely plant-based food system, with little bits of animal products, some of which they say are “optional”. A world in which animal products are seen as an expensive, prized “treat” for the few who can afford them, the rich few who can buy themselves out of personal responsibility, is neither desirable nor attainable. A truly radical transformation would be a complete shift to plant-based agriculture. We should face up to that and immediately start to work towards it. The destruction of the planet is at stake and in the face of that we need to be more courageous and make truly radical changes."

We have a moral obligation not to use or kill other sentient beings.

We have a moral obligation to reject animal agriculture because of its devastating impact on the environment and biodiversity.

We have a moral obligation to reject animal agriculture because of the key role it plays in world hunger.

These intersecting moral obligations mean that we should all be vegan.

These intersecting moral obligations mean we must switch to plant-based production and consumption.

We must act individually, at a community level and at a governmental level.

​© 2016 Go Vegan Scotland.