The principals who publish the British medical journal The Lancet have created a commission to deal with ‘the world’s unhealthy diets’ — only their solution is as biased as their ideal diet is dull.
When does science go astray?
When political considerations interfere with data. Or perhaps a better way to phrase it would be when ideology overrides scientific objectivity.
Such is the case of with a recent and much-touted EAT-Lancet Commission white paper titled, “Food in the Anthropocene: Healthy diets from sustainable food systems.”
First of all, for those unfamiliar, this commission was created by the editors of The Lancet, a prominent British medical journal that’s similar to the Journal of the American Medical Association (aka “JAMA”), which is considered one of the more respectable medical publications distributed to American physicians.
On the other side of The Pond, The Lancet is also generally well-regarded, although its editors have been known to succumb on occasion to conspiracy theories, most famously the journal’s bandwagoning of discredited anti-vaccination activist Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s bunko research back in the 1990s suggesting — falsely — that there was a link between the MMR vaccine (for measles, mumps, and rubella) and autism.
The Lancet initially trumpeted Wakefield’s shoddy research data (compiled from only 12 children), which launched an extremist campaign aimed to convincing parents that vaccines are dangerous and should be avoided, before retracting its endorsement long after the damage had already been done.
Now, it appears that the publication’s spinoff commission on food, nutrition and sustainability might be headed down a similar path.
Allow me to walk you through the thought process The Lancet’s partisan researchers seem to be following.
For starters, here’s the premise of the report: “Because much of the world’s population is inadequately nourished and many environmental systems and processes are pushed beyond safe boundaries by food production, a global transformation of the food system is urgently needed.”
Hard to argue with the urgency, if not the idea that “transformation” of global food systems is the only option.
The EAT-Lancet commission went on to suggest that, “Strong evidence indicates that food production is among the largest drivers of global environmental change by contributing to climate change, biodiversity loss, freshwater use, interference with the global nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, and land-system change.”
Yes, agriculture, by definition, cannot proceed without driving changes in land applications, water use and biodiversity. You cannot clear native vegetation to plant food crops without affecting ecosystems — which means that even the diehard vegans who proudly proclaim that they subsist only on plant-based sustenance are not exempt from the implied condemnation the commission’s report levels at farming.
ID’ing the real villains
But make no mistake: The target of the EAT-Lancet group isn’t the seven billion-plus humans alive right now, whose sheer numbers have put enormous pressure on the ecosystems involved in food production.
The culprits in this existential crisis are those unenlightened souls who haven’t committed to the vegetarian lifestyle. Here is what the commission’s report stated right up front as one of its “Key Messages:”
“Transformation to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts, including a greater than 50% reduction in global consumption of unhealthy foods, such as red meat and sugar, and a greater than 100% increase in consumption of healthy foods, such as nuts, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.”
Could the authors of the report have stated it any more plainly? “Red meat bad; everything else good.”
As if that’s not biased enough in describing the “healthy reference diet,” the report suggested that everyone in the world should be eating only the aforementioned veggies and legumes, plus “low amounts of seafood and poultry,” as well as — and this is a direct quote — “no or a low quantity of red meat, processed meat, added sugar, refined grains and starchy vegetables.”
In other words, if you’re planning to serve meat and potatoes for dinner, congratulations: You’re responsible for killing the planet.
Now, if you substitute tofu made from soybeans grown in the agricultural systems EAT-Lancet considered responsible for “climate change, biodiversity loss and interference with the global nitrogen and phosphorus cycles,” along with leafy greens grown in tropical climates and airfreighted to U.S. and European consumers during the winter months when they’re out-of-season, well, you’re an eco-hero who can drift off to sleep each night convinced you did your part in saving Planet Earth, while those other seven billion losers eating the animal foods that have sustained humanity for the last dozen millennia are simply selfish, misguided fools who obviously haven’t embraced the reference diet compiled by the geniuses who wrote the EAT-Lancet Commission report.
Yes, improvements in food production and processing must continue, if for no other reason than to keep pace with population growth.
But that’s a far cry from the notion that everyone must stop eating meat and limit consumption of poultry and fish, while stocking up on soy protein and salads.
Neither of those options is remotely the solution to the challenge of feeding an overpopulated world.
The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, an award-winning journalist and commentator.