WWF publishes Livewell Report as aid to improve human nutrition and reduce environmental harm of human diet

January 30th, 2011 by WWF

On 30 January 2011 WWF released a 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.

(Click Livewell report cover to download report to your computer)

The report addresses the current nutrient intake and the greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) of the diet of the UK population and what the diet would look like if it met both current nutrient recommendations and the 2020 target of a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

The report also determines if it is possible to meet current nutrient recommendations with a 70% reduction in GHGE by 2050.

The WWF report recommends that people:

  • 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

Using the UK government’s nutritional guidelines from the Food Standards Agency 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 and 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

Fresh organic vegetables from Guernsey Organic Growers (now Guernsey Organics) at the Sausmarez Manor farmers' market (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

WWF’s head of campaigns, Colin Butfield, said “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.

The Livewell 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.

“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,” Colin Butfield said.

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.

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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 and land-use change See WWF-UK report How low can we go?).

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.

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.

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