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Dietary guidelines proposing a limited intake of animal protein because it is better for the environment, are not necessarily better for the climate or compatible with the adoption of circular food systems, researchers from Wageningen University & Research conclude.
Editorial office / Wageningen

Worldwide, the EAT-Lancet dietary guidelines are seen as the standard that is better both for human health (less risk of cardiovascular disease, colon cancer and type 2 diabetes) and for the climate (less greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, eutrophication and loss of biodiversity). However, research shows that circular food systems may even perform better.

Circular food systems aim to optimise resource use by using cropland primarily to produce plant biomass for human consumption. This avoids competition between feed and food production. Currently, about 40% of the world’s arable land is used for the production of high quality fodder, much of which would also be suitable for human consumption. In order to use resources more efficiently, livestock could instead be fed with low-opportunity-cost (‘cheap’) biomass, such as by-products from the food industry, food waste and grass.

Different meat

Researchers concluded that these two approaches are compatible in terms of nutritional value and total animal protein, but not in terms of the type of animals involved. The EAT-Lancet guidelines favour poultry meat, while a circular food system focuses mainly on milk, beef and pork. This could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 31% compared to the EAT-Lancet diet, while requiring up to 42% less agricultural land. The researchers conclude that the replacement of animal-derived foods in circular human diets should be reconsidered carefully.

The article was published in Nature Food, a scientific journal aimed at optimising and securing food systems for the future.

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