Nutrition: Health for the entire planet
According to the UN, the world population will grow to around 10 billion people in the next 30 years. Supplying these 2 billion more people than today’s population with food represents a huge global challenge. At the same time, climate change is reducing agricultural production and the downstream value chain through to the consumer must make more sustainable use of resources - in every way. The nutrition of the future should ensure that all people have access to the necessary nutrients and be healthy for the planet as well. Such a “planetary health diet” requires urgent innovation. That much is certain.
Wednesday, November 10, 2021
At present, humanity needs 1.75 Earths to cover its consumption. A Swiss consumer even needs 2.85 Earths. According to the EAT-Lancet Commission we need a “planetary health diet”, a nutrition plan that is both healthy and does not deprive the planet of more resources than it can provide. Our current food production is not resource-efficient and therefore is not sustainable. In order to be able to provide healthy nutrition to ten billion people by the year 2050 and not excessively burden the planet, we need new technologies in a wide variety of areas.
A nutrition plan for the planet
The meal plan of the “planetary health diet” looks different, especially for Europeans and Americans. In concrete terms, this means less meat - especially from animals whose feed production is in competition with human food - and less sugar or potatoes. These will be replaced with more vegetables, fruits, legumes and nuts. But the production of more plant-based foods also means using up more land. Biodiversity should be preserved on land on which nothing further will actually be built. As a result, more must be produced on the same or even decreasing acreage. This requires technical innovations and specialized knowledge at all levels of production and consumption.
Facilitate and allow future technologies
According to the "Food Trend Report" from the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute, hotly discussed topics include green genetic engineering, laboratory-derived alternative protein sources to meat, more automation and networking in sales, augmented reality retail, and individualized menus and meals based on one’s DNA. What all technologies have in common is a more efficient use of available resources. Other topics being discussed include “Animal-free” dairy products or the extraction of flavorings from plastic waste. In addition to the technologies of the future, we also need to work on the problems of the present. The includes, for example, closing the so-called “micronutrient gap”.
Improve access to vitamins
Some two billion people have a “micronutrient gap,” In other words, they have insufficient access to adequate sources of vitamins and minerals. The EAT Lancet Report therefore estimates that vegetable and fruit production must be doubled by 2050 to enable a healthy, balanced diet for the entire world population. Today, only a fraction of the world's population consumes the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables. In addition to increased fruit and vegetable production, dietary supplements and fortified foods will also play an increasingly important role. The best example of this is so-called “golden rice”. Rice fortified with vitamin A was recently approved in the Philippines, and in the future could save millions of children from vitamin A deficiency and associated blindness or death.
Many of these solutions listed as examples will require that people are able to overcome previous ways of thinking. “Natural is good, artificial is dangerous”, as the most simplistic of narratives, has worn out its welcome by now. Truly sustainable solutions can definitely come from the laboratory - in other words, “lab-based sustainability”.
The reduced use of plant protection products is causing much smaller wheat and rapeseed harvests. A study carried out by Swiss Agricultural Research reveals that such crop failures can only be offset by state subsidies. This is neither sustainable nor resource-efficient.
The economic interdependence of the world has increased greatly over the past years and decades. Due to the brisk trade activity between the continents, invasive plant and animal species are also spreading faster and faster. This can lead to serious problems for native vegetation and agriculture. According to the FOEN, the canton of Ticino is particularly affected.
Invasive pests and plant diseases are among the greatest challenges for biodiversity and agriculture. They often enter Switzerland via travel and imported goods and cause great damage to cultivated and wild plants. Since 2020, the import of plants from non-EU countries is prohibited. However, introduced pests are a worldwide problem.
The Japanese beetle was first discovered in Switzerland in 2017 in Ticino. Now it has made it to the northern side of the Alps. After being found in Basel-Stadt and Solothurn, a larger population of the beetles has been found in Kloten for the first time. They are controlled with traps, but also pesticides.