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Government sustainability watchdog: meat-based diets unhealthy and environmentally damaging

The livestock industry is expected to react angrily to a report by the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) warning that our intake of meat and dairy needs to decrease significantly if we are to stay healthy and save the environment.

Posted : 11 December 2009

The Government’s independent advisory body on sustainability says in its report, Setting the Table: Advice to Government on Priority Elements of Sustainable Diets, that an increase in poor health, including obesity, cancer and heart disease, is linked to diets high in meat, dairy and processed food.

“So far we’ve had fragmented and contradictory thinking on what dietary intakes should be. Advice to consumers ought to change and stop compartmentalising issues,” said SDC commissioner Professor Tim Lang .“Cutting down on meat and dairy, eating only sustainably sourced fish, fruit and vegetables, would all help reduce the impact of our food system as well as improving health.”

Expect a robust rebuttal of the findings next from the livestock, food and drinks industries, which will see a drop in profits if the SDC’s advice is acted upon by the Government. A Guardian article reports that tension is already brewing in Whitehall concerning the impact of the report as it filters through departments and procurement agencies.

According to the report, cutting down on meat and dairy would see the livestock industry decline at home and abroad, but will result in fewer incidences of cardiovascular disease, some cancers and animal-borne infections, while at the same time reducing greenhouse gases, slowing deforestation and the loss of biodiversity, lowering food prices and creating more employment.

In order to cut down on the environmental damage associated with intensive industrial farming practices and the adverse health effects of processed and meat-based foods, the report also recommends eating more fruit and vegetables; eating fish from sustainable stocks only; eating “more foods produced with respect for wildlife and environment”, including organics and fish from sustainable stocks only; and drinking tap water, not bottled.

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