More dairy needed to achieve sustainable global diet

Article – BusinessDesk

More dairy needed to achieve sustainable global diet – Fonterra

Global dairy output will have to increase – not fall – if the dietary targets of an international study on sustainable food production are to be achieved, Fonterra says.

While dairy consumption in Europe and North America exceeds the levels proposed in a sustainable reference diet modelled in an EAT-Lancet study earlier this year, the global average is still only about half that targeted, Jeremy Hill told delegates at the Climate Change and Business Conference in Auckland this week.

The diet proposed by EAT, an Oslo-based think tank dedicated to transforming the global food system, assumes just one serving of dairy a day. That is less than the 425 millilitres a day prescribed in diets developed by the Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, and only a third of the 750 ml typical in developed nations, said Hill, Fonterra’s chief science and technology officer.

The institute’s work, and that of the Palmerston North-based Riddet Institute, suggest EAT’s claims that milk production can be significantly reduced while improving diets is probably “not quite right, in fact quite wrong,” he said.

“We can’t actually get the diets to work without it – and a lot more of it.”

Hill was speaking as part of a panel looking at the combined challenge of feeding a global population that may reach 10 billion by 2050, while also reducing emissions and other environmental impacts from food production.

The EAT-Lancet study published in February advocated a “radical” transformation of the global food system, including a halving of food wastage and major improvements in food production practices.

Consumption of fruit, vegetables, legumes and nuts would have to double, while red meat consumption would fall by about 70 percent. Dairy production would rise about 10 percent, compared with the 50 percent increase expected on a business-as-usual basis.

Delegates heard that New Zealand is no longer a heavy meat-eating country. Red meat consumption has fallen about 42 percent during the past decade, largely due to rising cost, said Fiona Windle, head of nutrition at Beef + Lamb New Zealand.

The flexitarian-healthfood category is Countdown’s fastest-growing, with 12-18 percent of customers shopping vegetarian and 7 percent vegan, said Kiri Hannifin, who manages the firm’s food quality and sustainability efforts. Dairy-free milk sales have risen 14 percent in the past six months, while sales of plant-based meat products – not offered a year ago – are also growing at double-digit rates, she said.

Fonterra’s Hill said the EAT study looked at all the right things but should have also looked at the practicality and affordability of what it proposed. Assuming substantial improvements in the productivity of plant-based agriculture, but not in animal systems, was another flaw.

While diet is a free choice for individuals, achieving a sustainable and affordable food system that can deliver a nutritious diet on a global scale will require the optimisation of plant-based agriculture with animal-based food, he said.

There will have to be “massive” improvements in the sustainability of dairy production, and that will be a mix of both improved practices and new technology.

Water usage will be an issue, as it is for most agricultural systems. Uncoupling feed for ruminants from the methane the animals produce is another important focus, he said.

New pasture types and technologies are being developed to cut those emissions and could “change the game” if successful, he said.

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