Shifting diets can help bridge food gap; reduce pressure on land, water and climate: report

The proposed diet shifts target countries that currently consume, or are projected to use by 2050, high amounts of calories, protein or beef.

By Karnika Bahuguna
Last Updated: Friday 27 May 2016 | 09:02:15 AM

Reduction of overconsumption of food, especially resource-intensive foods like animal-based proteins, can contribute significantly to a sustainable food future, the report said
Credit:Matt Biddulph/Flickr

Governments and philanthropic institutes should create funding mechanisms to support the development, testing and rollout of evidence-based strategies to shift diets, according to the recommendations of the 2016 Global Food Policy Report.

The report by the US-based International Food Policy Research Institute is the fifth in an annual series. It provides a comprehensive overview of major food policy developments and events.

Pointing towards a global convergence toward western-style diets that are high in calories, proteins and animal-based foods and thus pose challenges for food security and sustainability, the report proposed three diet shifts to help close the gap and reduce agriculture pressure on land, water and climate.

The proposed diet shifts target countries and populations that currently consume, or are projected to use by 2050 high amounts of calories, protein or beef. They do not target undernourished people, nor do they seek to eliminate animal-based food consumption, recognising that livestock production is an important source of livelihood and income, the report added.

The diet shifts propose reduction in overconsumption of calories; decrease in overconsumption of proteins by reducing consumption of animal-based foods and cutting down on beef consumption specifically.

According to the report, the world is on course to demand 70 per cent more calories, nearly 80 per cent more animal-based foods and 95 per cent more beef by 2050.

Reduction of overconsumption of food, especially resource-intensive foods like animal-based proteins, can contribute significantly to a sustainable food future, the report said.

It proposed a “Shift Wheel” framework which is informed by consumption shifts successfully orchestrated in the fast-moving consumer goods sector. It comprises four complementary strategies including minimising disruption in consumers’ existing habits by minimising changes to a product’s taste, look, texture, smell, packaging and location within a store.

Another strategy in the framework involves selling a compelling benefit. This strategy includes marketing a product attribute known to shape consumers’ food purchases and delivering product attributes that can stimulate a behaviour change, such as health, affordability, taste or product quality.

Remaining strategies included maximising awareness and adapting to or changing the underlying social and cultural norms by informing and educating consumers.

The report recommended that governments and food companies should set quantifiable targets and test the use of the “Shift Wheel” to increase the share of plant-based protein in diets and reduce beef consumption specifically.

It said that governments should ensure coherence among agriculture, health, nutrition, water, biodiversity and climate change policies in relation to promoting sustainable diets.

“Agriculture production subsidies should be an important focus given their size and influence on what types of food farmers produce. Since subsidy reform is likely to be politically difficult, taxation and other regulations related to product labeling, marketing, or both should also be explored,” it said.

It suggested establishment of an initiative aimed at increasing the share of plant-based protein in diets and reducing beef consumption specifically. The initiative should test the “Shift Wheel” in specific contexts and catalyse new approaches to shifting diets, it recommended.

Conducting pilot tests, building an evidence base, measuring behaviour change and its impacts on people and the environment and sharing and scaling up successes should also be part of the initiative, it said.

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IEP Resources:

2016 Global Food Policy Report

Mediterranean food consumption patterns: diet, environment, society, economy and health

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