Environment

Label food with its impact on the planet, doctors say

Diets across Europe will have to change significantly if the climate crisis is to be stopped, cutting down on high-emission foods like meat and dairy

Meat and dairy foods should have a climate tax and all products need labels showing the environmental impact of producing them, according to a group of leading medical organisations who have called for such measures to be instated by 2025 to cut the impact of food industries on the planet.

The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, which includes the British Medical Association, ten Royal Colleges of medicine and nursing and medical journal the Lancet, said the climate crisis cannot be stopped without a huge reduction in the amount of high-emission foods such as meat eaten around the world.

“We can’t reach our goals without addressing our food system,”said the Faculty of Public Health’s Kristin Bash, who co-authored the UKHACC report. “The climate crisis isn’t something we should see as far in the future. It’s time to take these issues seriously now.”

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Fighting the climate crisis goes hand-in-hand with improving the nation’s diet, the organisations said, as the UK consumes too much meat and just one in three people eat the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. The report recommended an immediate end to buy-one-get-one-free offers for unhealthy food in a bid to tackle both issues.

“Today you can walk into a shop and buy something with an environmental impact many times higher than another food, and have no idea you have done so,” said the University of Oxford’s Joseph Poore.

Earlier this year, Greenpeace research found that most Europeans would have to reduce their meat intake by more than 70 per cent by 2030 if countries are to stick to the requirements of the Paris Agreement and stop global heating going above 1.5°C.

The UKHACC said public information campaigns to boost the nation’s diet should also include messages about saving the planet. Ministers should commit an annual £2 billion to bringing up the environmental standard of catering in schools, hospitals and prisons, according to the report.

“Covid-19, painful though it is, could pale into insignificance compared to the turbulence created by climate change and the collapse in biodiversity,” National Food Strategy lead Henry Dimbleby said.  

“Healthcare professionals have an important role in shaping our diets, and I am very pleased to see their recommendations cover not only our health, but that of our planet too.”

If we are to avoid dangerous global warming we must start to reconsider our attitudes to food

A YouGov poll commissioned by UKHACC showed that 40 per cent of healthcare professionals have already changed their diets to help the planet.

“It is clear that if we are to avoid dangerous global warming we must start to reconsider our attitudes to food,” Royal College of Physicians president Professor Andrew Goddard said. “We each have a responsibility and an ability to make a difference as individuals.”

In July a Lords report found that low-income families are left with “little or no choice” about diet, forced to either go without meals or depend on unhealthy food because it is more affordable.

The study showed that people in deprived areas are twice as likely to be obese as better-off families due to overpriced healthy foods, deepening the health divide between wealthy and poor.

Food Foundation executive director Anna Taylor said at the time: “Every day that passes where the odds are stacked against families securing a healthy diet is a missed opportunity to secure a healthy future for our children.”

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