Government’s analysis, assessment and research activities
Report: Shift to climate-friendly diet requires a systemic change
The climate impacts of diet can be reduced by 30 to 40 per cent by changing our diets and taking care of the carbon reserve in arable land. According to the final report of the FoodMinimum project, shift to a climate-friendly diet requires larger, systemic changes.
The FoodMinimum project was part of the Government’s analysis, assessment and research activities. It studied how a diet based on the nutrition recommendations and reducing the consumer’s food loss and waste influences the climate impacts of diet.
The project also analysed how a change in diet that produces climate and nutritional benefits would impact on the Finnish agri-food sector and what kind of policy instruments and measures could be used to support the change.
Change in diet, reducing meat consumption and taking care of the carbon reserve in arable land are efficient means to reduce the climate impacts of food consumption. However, a controlled shift towards a nutritionally balanced and climate-friendly diet will not succeed without taking measures in support of the change all through the food system. A climate-friendly food system may also be healthy, competitive and socially sustainable if measures are taken to support and manage the changes required to achieve this.
Clear decrease in meat consumption needed to achieve climate benefits
An average diet that is climate-friendly and follows the nutrition recommendations may contain different kinds of average diets. However, achieving the climate benefits requires a clear reduction in average meat consumption. If climate benefits are to be gained through dietary changes, due attention must be paid to a sufficient intake of nutrients within the population, especially among the special groups. One of the conclusions of the FoodMinimum project is that changes in diet may ease some of the challenges relating to nutrition, but new challenges may also emerge.
The Finnish food policy has stressed voluntary measures by the food sector in building a responsible food chain. The results of the FoodMinimum project show that the measures taken by the food industry need to be supported by commonly agreed public objectives and regulations as well as effective mixes of guidance by knowledge and through financial instruments. For example, stronger integration of environmental criteria to nutrition recommendations would make it easier for institutional food services to develop their operations in a more sustainable direction.
Support payments and taxation to be reassessed
The steering instruments of the public sector have impacts on the formation of food prices as well. The guiding role of agricultural support payments and taxation must be assessed more strongly in terms of their impacts on both the environment and health. The impact of taxes that are based on environmental and health considerations should be assessed together, and the impacts of different tax models should also be considered in terms of what they cost and how fair and just they are.
A change in diet that produces environmental benefits would revolutionise the production structure of the agri-food sector, but the value of production in the food economy could still stay at the current level. Instead, maintaining the value of agricultural production would require that livestock production would not stop altogether. The change requires investments to be made in the production of plant-based products and the creation of new value chains in this sector. Directing agricultural support payments to the diversification of the range of agricultural crops facilitates the renewal of the agriculture sector.
Important role of soil carbon reserves
Carbon dioxide emissions from arable land have an important role in the climate impacts of diet and in reducing these. The climate impacts of diet can be efficiently reduced by better management of carbon dioxide emissions from arable lands, especially in the case of diets that are based on products of animal origin. Crop diversification, crop rotation and other measures that add to soil carbon reserve will be even more important than before if the numbers of ruminants feeding on grasslands decrease as meat-free diets become increasingly common. Without due attention to these measures there is the risk that the reduction in soil carbon reserves will continue, and become even faster.
Merja Saarinen, Senior Scientist, Natural Resources Institute Finland, merja.saarinen(at=luke.fi, +358 29 532 6506
Minna Kaljonen, Senior Scientist, Finnish Environment Institute, minna.kaljonen(at)ymparisto.fi, +358 29 251 252
Jyrki Niemi, Professor, Natural Resources Institute Finland, jyrki.niemi(at)luke.fi, +358 29 532 6390