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The Review

Meat cuts, food fraud and dodgy palm oil.

Sustainable diets: Three cheers for Holland

The Netherlands’ Nutrition Centre has updated its dietary advice and has B advised a halving of meat consumption, to 500g per week. No more than 300g of this should be red meat, they say, in the main because of its considerable environmental footprint. It’s a brave move, with some reports suggesting it’s a breakthrough for more sustainable diets.

If only the UK government could be so bold. Public Health England also revised its guidance last month, replacing the Eatwell Plate with an Eatwell Guide. Dairy consumption should be halved, PHE said, while there’s also a note to eat less red and processed meat. It doesn’t go far enough, though.

The environmental footprint of the guide is less than the plate, as well as much lower than current diets, but it’s nowhere near low enough to keep emissions in check and to limit temperature rises to 2C.

New research published by the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food suggested meat intake needs to fall by two-thirds in countries such as the UK. The study also showed that if everyone followed the global healthy eating guidelines currently in place, carbon would be cut by just 29%. If everyone went vegetarian or vegan the figures would be 63% and 70% respectively.

“We do not expect everybody to become vegan,” said the lead author, Marco Springmann, but “our analysis indicates that adopting global dietary guidelines would not be enough to reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions to the same extent that total greenhouse gas emissions will need to fall to keep global temperature increases to below two degrees”.

Food fraud: something to shout about

No one wants a repeat of the horsemeat scandal, but the food industry is clearly not doing enough to prevent food fraud. That’s according to the Food Standards Agency’s first ever assessment of food crime in the UK.

“Our assessment shows that the threat is real,” noted the FSA’s national food crime unit in its report, but information sharing with the food industry is in its early stages. Broad and more specific information would help, it noted, but food firms “can worry that reporting as crime will damage their reputational or profits”.

The consequences of keeping schtum can be more severe and there have been warnings that foodservice remains particularly vulnerable. The NFCU points out that meat species substitution in catering “continues to be observed through local authority sampling”, with lamb replaced by beef, turkey or pork. “This is particularly common in spicy meals, where customer capacity to detect the fraud may be impaired by other powerful flavours.”

But the spices themselves may also not be what they say in the packet. An oregano sampling exercise earlier this year revealed that 19 of 78 samples consisted of 21% to 69% olive or myrtle leaves.

Palm oil: why keep quiet for so long?

The fallout from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil’s decision to (finally) suspend one of its founding members has been fascinating to watch. Malaysia-based producer IOI was found to have fallen foul of some of the certification scheme’s rules, with an investigation showing extensive deforestation and fires in peatland areas within some of its plantations.

The RSPO took 12 months to reach its decision, though it’s been six years since NGOs raised the alarm over IOI’s operations. “It is too little too late,” said the Friends of the Earth food campaigner Clare Oxborrow.

Moves by the big food brands to distance themselves from IOI since the suspension on April 1st have been anything but tardy. Mars, Unilever and Kellogg are all taking their business elsewhere until the situation is resolved, while Nestlé has ceased sourcing from the plantations at the centre of the controversy. Mondelez has been a little more reluctant to divulge its plans, but it looks like IOI has also fallen foul of the Cadbury owner’s supplier policies too.

On the one hand, the reaction speed once the suspension was confirmed has been impressive. On the other, could all these companies not have moved sooner? If IOI, as has long appeared likely, was managing some of its plantations poorly, why not step in, ask questions, or at the very least exert more pressure on the RSPO to act?