“We live in a remarkable world. Planet Earth is full of diverse wonders that nourish us in many ways. It is the place where we live out our lives, work, eat, love, play; in short, it is the place we call home. And it is our only home.”
The food we eat and how it is produced can improve our health, increase biodiversity and reduce carbon emissions. However, the food industry today and vested interests would have us thread an increasingly well-worn path to ill health, environmental damage, increased carbon emissions and pollution of our planet and bodies.
These are some of the thoughts of Dr Sean Ownes, a member of Irish Doctors for the Environment and the chair of “The Climate and Health Alliance” who earlier this year launched a new and ground-breaking report examining in detail the connection between our food health and the health of our planet, he was kind enough to provide his thoughts below:
There is currently a syndemic of unhealthy poor diets and related chronic disease paired with climate change and critical biodiversity loss. The problems with the Irish healthcare system can be summed up in one word: capacity. The problems with Ireland’s food system might also be summed up in one word: sustainability.
This report is unique it is the first time that multiple healthcare institutions, such as UCD, RCSI, ICGP, RCPI, the Irish Heart Foundation and many more have all arrived at a consensus that the current Irish diet is causing great harm to people and planet, while also recognising planetary boundaries and the need to live within them.
Our shared food environment has completely changed in a single generation secondary to unfettered market forces and weak public health policies. The standard Irish diet now exceeds planetary boundaries by over 200%. This report highlights how our dietary habits of today are taking food off the plates of the next generation, while also undermining our planet’s fragile and rapidly declining ecosystems.
The food system touches all of us, be it consumers, primary food producers who work the land, those in retail or healthcare professionals who work at the distal end of the system i.e., chronic disease, and as a multi-level system it requires multi-level action. There has been a lack of joined up thinking to date, as well as a lack of any urgency commensurate with the threat of the climate crisis. Given that our AgriFood strategy is an export growth model, while there is now more awareness and urgency, it is unlikely that Ireland will make the necessary changes to meet our emissions obligations.
The report seeks to highlight how sustainable diets are critical for not only our climate targets, but also a viable healthcare system going forward. Adding plants to your plate isn’t just a favour to the planet, it is a heath gain for your heart, your gut and your future self. It isn’t about the usual tired debate of vegan vs farmer, rather it is about rethinking our own diet as a health pension, and everyday there are many opportunities to pay in. As pensions go, there can’t be one of better value. The report wants our policy makers to know that we can’t ask people to swim upstream and chose to eat healthy foods when they are too expensive, inaccessible, competing with cheaper junk foods and more. We urge them to engage with healthcare professionals, especially dietitian’s, but also marketing experts, public health experts, policy experts and look towards other jurisdictions that have implemented meaningful changes with Just transition at their heart. The report also asks that all farmers be given the support they need to make a transition to meet our emissions targets.
The greatest challenge will be making forward progress free from the undue influence of vested interests and powerful lobby groups. We need to see this transition as a generational opportunity for not only health and a viable healthcare system, but also for the Irish economy and for rural Ireland now and in the future. Healthy and sustainable diets don’t need to be invented; we only need the policies to make choosing them the best option.
The report is a well-researched detailed document, and you can check it out here. Thanks Sean to you and your colleagues for the great work and for trail blazing the link between diet health and planet.
Link to report : https://climateandhealthalliance.wordpress.com/resources/