Knowledge for better food systems

Health Council of the Netherlands: Guidelines for a healthy diet: the Ecological perspective

The Health Council of the Netherlands has published an advisory report addressing the question as to whether a healthy diet is also eco-friendly in terms of land use, greenhouse gas emissions, and biodiversity.  The report was undertaken following a request by the former Dutch minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality.

The Health Council of the Netherlands has published an advisory report addressing the question as to whether a healthy diet is also eco-friendly in terms of land use, greenhouse gas emissions, and biodiversity.  The report was undertaken following a request by the former Dutch minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality.

The report points out that there are many research methods for assessing the ecological effects of food production, dietary patterns, and food chains. The outcomes, however, are often associated with considerable statistical uncertainty. The problem is that reports are seldom published on these uncertainties, which makes the actual outcomes difficult to interpret and compare. The analyses give an impression of the effects, rather than delivering hard evidence for them. These uncertainties mean that the current state of knowledge permits only qualitative rather than quantitative guidelines.

The report’s main conclusion, however, is that a healthy diet is generally an ecologically sustainable one. Two 'win-win' guidelines may be given which deliver both health benefits and ecological benefits:

  1. A less animal-based and more plant-based diet
  2. The reduction of energy intake for those with an excessive body weight

The guideline ‘eat fish twice a week, including one portion of oily fish’ may yield health benefits, but may be ecologically detrimental. The guideline to reduce food waste yields ecological benefits while having neutral health effects

As regards recommendations, the advisory report emphasizes the importance of seeking broad support for the development of European guidelines for a healthy and eco-friendly diet, given that earlier national initiatives from other countries have met opposition from commercial interests. In addition, it identifies a clear need for a deeper understanding of an eco-friendly diet on which to base measures by which the environmental burden of food production and consumption can be reduced. The degree of uncertainty attached to these analyses deserves special attention.

The executive summary and full report are available for download here:

 

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