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Little consideration for the environment in dietary guidelines

Only four countries currently include sustainability in their food based dietary guidelines, according to new research published by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN).

Plates, Pyramids, Planet evaluates government-issued food guidelines from 83 countries, looking in particular at whether they link to environmental sustainability.

Brazil, Germany, Sweden and Qatar all highlight that a largely plant-based diet has advantages for health and for the environment. Sweden even provides more detailed advice on which plant based foods are to be preferred, recommending for example root vegetables over salad greens.

Even amongst these pioneers there was room for improvement, however.

“Most guidelines that include sustainability talk about the high environmental impact of meat – with the exception of the Qatari guidelines – but the advice often lacks specificity, and where recommended maximum levels are given, these are in line with recommendations of solely health-oriented guidelines,” the researchers concluded.

The UK was one of two countries (together with the Netherlands) that have recently taken steps to incorporate environmental considerations into their food guidelines. Sustainable, healthy diets have been the focus of considerable attention, but progress in the UK has been “intermittent”, the authors noted. “[…]there has been a lack of continuity related to changes in government.”

In March, Public Health England published the Eatwell Guide to replace the Eatwell Plate. The guidelines have an “appreciably lower” environmental impact than current diets but will be nowhere near enough to hit 2050 greenhouse gas reduction targets.