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Can healthy diets save the planet?

Written on 21 Nov 2019.


Increasing acute water shortage, more dead zones, loss of biodiversity, 6th mass extinction… the impacts of human activities on the planet are well known. But how we act, as individuals and citizens to bend these environmental curves was the main topic of Fabrice DeClerck’s lecture, focusing on how we produce, source and consume our food. This lecture is part of a course of the MSc in Global & Sustainable Business on Driving a Sustainable Food Revolution by Eric Soubeiran, Vice-President Nature & Water Cycle at Danone. 

Healthy diets and sustainability as business opportunities

“We need to break the silos to address both sustainability and public health”, Mr DeClerck explained. “We are at a tipping point. A better future is possible.” Among the solutions, Fabrice DeClerck listed: scaling productive and regenerative agriculture to increase carbon capture, diversifying sources of protein (aquatic, insect-based, laboratory cultured, plant-based), reducing food waste and loss, promoting healthy and sustainable diets for all, building local loops and linkages, embracing the digital revolution (precision farming, gene-editing techniques…), delivering stronger rural livelihoods, promoting gender equality to recognise the role of women in rural societies, increasing the consumption of seeds and nuts, of plant-based foods, building fairer, shorter, cleaner supply chain, putting trade in the service of sustainable development...

“Business as usual will double the Greenhouse gas emissions by two and we will exceed all environmental limits set by science”, he said. “But a shift from current diets to healthy diets is likely to substantially benefit human health, averting about 11 M premature deaths per year. Feeding 10 billion people a healthy diet within safe planetary boundaries is possible and will improve the health and well-being of millions of people and allow us to pass unto our children a viable planet.”

Fabrice DeClerck finally invited the students to challenge the companies they will work for on how they source and produce their goods and to think about how creating healthy products and contributing to a healthy environment can turn into business opportunities. Leanne Lim, a Singaporean student, attended the keynote speech. She had some previous knowledge of the topic as she had worked in the food waste management sector in Singapore. “I knew that the amount of food produced globally is sufficient to feed the world’s population, but is not equally distributed to different communities. The talk highlighted a new perspective: eating the right amount and proportions of food is key to feeding the world’s population within environmental limits. Developing healthy and sustainable alternative food sources is complex, as Dr. DeClerck pointed out with the examples of plant-based meats having high levels of sodium and the mixed impact on different environmental indicators (e.g. decreasing GHG emissions but increasing cropland use) with decreasing meat intake, and these are taken into account with the scientific approach of EAT-Lancet Commission’s Summary Report.” Leanne concluded, having heard Dr. DeClerck’s call to immediate action: “With dietary risks as the number one risk factor for human mortality and the relevancy to multiple Sustainable Development Goals, I think that transforming the way we grow and consume food should definitely be a top priority for government and businesses to tackle.



Photo credits: Unsplash/EDHEC

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