“Future expansion of seafood should come from aquaculture, which is one of the fastest growing food production sectors in the world” – Eat-Lancet commission report
By Fabian Dawson
Global aquaculture production, if expanded sustainably, will be crucial for a radical change in food production that is being called for by a commission convened by the prestigious medical journal The Lancet.
The Commission is a three-year project that brings together 37 experts from 16 countries with expertise in health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, food systems, economics and political governance.
It is suggesting scientific targets for food production to improve human health by cutting meat consumption in half, cutting food waste by half while doubling the intake of legumes, nuts, fruit and vegetables and increased consumption of sustainably harvested seafood.
“Because food systems are a major driver of poor health and environmental degradation, global efforts are urgently needed to collectively transform diets and food production,” the report said.
The EAT–Lancet Commission said unhealthy and unsustainably produced food poses a global risk to people and the planet.
“More than 820 million people have insufficient food and many more consume an unhealthy diet that contributes to premature death and morbidity.
“Current dietary trends, combined with projected population growth to about 10 billion by 2050, will exacerbate risks to people and planet.”
The commissions’ authors said that with food production causing major global environmental risks, sustainable food production needs to operate within the safe operating space for food systems at all scales on Earth.
“Therefore, sustainable food production for about 10 billion people should use no additional land, safeguard existing biodiversity, reduce consumptive water use and manage water responsibly, substantially reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, produce zero carbon dioxide emissions, and cause no further increase in methane and nitrous oxide emissions.”
On aquaculture, the report stated that “the world’s oceans need to be effectively managed to ensure that fisheries do not negatively affect ecosystems, fish stocks are used responsibly, and global aquaculture production is expanded sustainably given its effect on and linkage to both land and ocean ecosystems.”
Seafood provides 3.1 billion people with about 20% of their daily intake of animal protein and is particularly important for the world’s poorest for whom fish eaten whole constitute a crucial source of essential micro nutrients.
But with 90% of global wild fish stocks being overfished or fished at capacity, seafood extraction potential from the wild has probably reached a ceiling or is declining.
“Future expansion of seafood should come from aquaculture, which is one of the fastest growing food production sectors in the world,” the Eat-Lancet commission report said.
The authors said that while aquaculture will not solve the challenges posed by feeding about 10 billion people healthy diets, it could help steer production of animal source proteins towards reduced environmental effects and enhanced health benefits.
“The future environmental footprint of seafood depends on the species farmed, what they eat, and where aquaculture takes place,” they said.
The report proposed that future risks and opportunities related to anticipated aquaculture expansion need to be managed.
This management includes implementation of strict regulations on where to locate new operations, antibiotic and chemical use, nutrient runoff, and application of sustainably sourced feed from terrestrial and marine origin.
“Seafood transparency and eco-certification schemes can also be viable mechanisms for improving performance of the expanding seafood sector.”
The Eat-Lancet report’s key takeaways:
- The food we eat, the ways we produce it, and the amounts wasted or lost have major impacts on human health and environmental sustainability. Getting it right with food will be an important way for countries to achieve the targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.
- A diet that includes more plant-based foods and fewer animal source foods is healthy, sustainable, and good for both people and planet. It is not a question of all or nothing, but rather small changes for a large and positive impact.
- Today, agriculture occupies nearly 40% of global land, making agroecosystems the largest terrestrial ecosystems on the planet. Food production is responsible for up to 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of freshwater use. Land conversion for food production is the single most important driver of biodiversity loss.
- Foods sourced from animals, especially red meat, have relatively high environmental footprints per serving compared to other food groups. This has an impact on greenhouse gas emissions, land use and biodiversity loss. This is particularly the case for animal source foods from grain fed livestock.
- What is or is not consumed are both major drivers of malnutrition in various forms. Globally, over 820 million people continue to go hungry every day, 150 million children suffer from long-term hunger that impairs their growth and development, and 50 million children are acutely hungry due to insufficient access to food.
- In parallel, the world is also experiencing a rise in overweight and obesity. Today, over 2 billion adults are overweight and obese, and diet-related non-communicable diseases including diabetes, cancer and heart diseases are among the leading causes of global deaths.
- Good food can be a powerful driver of change: The EAT-Lancet Commission outlines a planetary health diet, which is flexible and recommends intake levels of various food groups that we can adapt to our local geography, culinary traditions and personal preferences. By choosing this diet, we can drive demand for the right foods and send clear market signals all the way through the food value chain back to the farmers.
- Globally, the planetary health diet favors increasing the consumption of a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes alongside small portions of meat and dairy. In parts of the world, this diet involves increasing the access to certain food groups while in other areas, the diet requires a significant reduction in the overconsumption of unhealthier foods.
- Shifting from unhealthy diets to the planetary health diet can prevent 11 million premature adult deaths per year and drive the transition toward a sustainable global food system by 2050 that ensures healthy food for all within planetary boundaries.