Monday, April 22, 2024

Australia looks to include sustainability in dietary guidelines

Food Frontier commends the council responsible for developing Australia’s Dietary Guidelines – National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) – for its recommendation to include sustainability in the updated version of the Guidelines.

“If included, it would bring Australia in alignment with countries around the world that have recognised the impact our current food systems have on the environment and the unsustainability of any expansion of those systems to meet growing demand for food, in particular protein, and a rise in global population from 8 billion to 9.7 billion by 2050,” according to Food Frontier.

Initially the NHMRC slated that sustainability messaging would be included in the appendices of the updated Guidelines, as per the previous version in 2013.

It has now recommended to incorporate it within the Guidelines, which it says aligns with the approach adopted by numerous countries including Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, Qatar, Norway, Brazil, and Germany.

Food Frontier CEO Dr Simon Eassom says including sustainability messaging of any kind within the Guidelines would be a significant step in moving towards less environmentally damaging food systems. “The Dietary Guidelines are a respected and well used reference for food experts and educators.

“If the recommendation is taken on board, it could increase Australian consumers’ awareness of the environmental impacts of their diet and benefit their health. We are yet to see how sustainability will be incorporated by the NHMRC in the review process, but we hope the Guidelines will include evidence about the varying impacts of protein sources.

“We are confident that the final guidelines will be objectively assessed, measured, and balanced and highlight the benefits of alternative and complementary protein sources that, if plant-based, provide essential fibre whilst appealing to those seeking familiar and easily implemented dietary choices.”

It could also be an opportunity to help Australia do its bit to address climate change through food systems transformation.

Approved by 143 nations, the COP28 UAE Declaration on Climate and Health underscored the significance of food systems in climate change mitigation.

It highlighted the pressing need for addressing climate change urgently and shift to “sustainable healthy diets”.

Potential inclusions of sustainability messaging could also more closely align the Australian Dietary Guidelines with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) ‘One Health’ movement which takes a unifying approach to sustainably balance and optimise the health of people, animals and ecosystems.

WHO takes the position that, “the health of humans, domestic and wild animals, plants, and the wider environment (including ecosystems) are closely linked and interdependent”.

Changing dietary guidelines makes a difference. A 2020 University of Oxford study analysed the dietary guidelines of 85 countries and found that official dietary advice is harming the environment and people’s health.

The Guidelines are expected to be finalised in 2026.

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