The esteemed British medical journal The Lancet has released two commission reports emphasizing the pivotal role that farms and food play in deteriorating human and environmental health, as well as in the mounting chaos of climate change.
So dire is our current state, the reports argue, that our ongoing survival and welfare as we live on earth requires a radical transformation of the farm and food systems. It will take mass public interest, activity, and direct support to make that happen.
The commissions warned explicitly that this essential transformation will require that consumers demand and pay for food that is raised and distributed in new ways. What you choose to eat, and the way your food is grown, have a direct impact on personal and global health. Our individual choices collectively create the rapidly deteriorating condition of our public health and the earth environment that sustains us. Those are not opinions or illusions, but rather scientific realities which are once again substantiated in these two commission studies.
The two Lancet commission reports were published separately in January, 2019. The first report, Food in the Anthropocene, was authored by 37 scientists from around the world, the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems. The second report was titled The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition and Climate Change: The Lancet Commission Report. That commission report was researched and written by 26 experts from 14 countries.
According to The Global Syndemic report, human beings are actively under threat from three global pandemics, all of them directly linked to the way we eat. Through their operations ‘Big Ag & Food’ corporations are driving global epidemics in obesity, undernutrition, and climate change. All of them threaten human beings. But their interactions create a hazardous impact greater than the sum of one, or two, or more afflictions. In combination, the three pandemics establish a global syndemic. That’s a set of linked health problems involving two or more afflictions that interact synergistically to drive conditions into a danger zone.
The researchers noted that ‘Big Food’ companies, driven by profit and heedless economic expansion, are through their actions inciting this syndemic. Industrial farm operations drive greenhouse gas omissions; meanwhile, paradoxically, people around the world are stricken by undernutrition, obesity, and a host of other diet and environment-related diseases.
The syndemic commission found that pandemics of malnutrition and obesity interact with climate change in a feedback loop. Together they represent an existential threat to humans and the planet. The modern western diet, they wrote, has become highly damaging, and needs a complete overhaul if we are to avoid ecological catastrophe. We need to cut global meat consumption in half, and more than double the volume of whole grains, pulses, nuts, fruit and vegetables we eat, according to the commission.
In conclusion, the syndemic commission report noted that the evidence that our diets are the largest cause of climate change and biodiversity loss is now overwhelming.
Meanwhile, also in the month of January, 2019, the 37 scientists of the separate EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems in 2019 authored their landmark publication, Food in the Anthropocene. These scientists concluded that food is the single strongest lever to improve human health and environmental sustainability.
Food systems have potential to dramatically increase environmental sustainability, they wrote, and to nurture and to improve human health. Our current food systems, however, are fouling ecosystems, and accentuating climate change. Overall the food system is the single largest driver of environmental degradation.
Further, as the commission reported, unhealthy diets now pose a greater risk to morbidity and mortality than unsafe sex, alcohol, drug, and tobacco use combined. Thus, an immense challenge facing humanity is to provide a growing world population with healthy diets from sustainable food systems. The Food in the Antropocene commission called for a radical transformation of the global food system. Individual action won’t be enough. We need to act as individuals, and then also actively cooperate on community, national, and global approaches and systems.