This plant-focused diet won’t save the planet

A healthy meal

Population reduction should be easier to effect than the proposed change of diet,’ writes Richard Vernon. Photograph: Alamy

Damian Carrington gives us a fine review of the “planetary health diet” in his article (New plant-focused diet would ‘transform’ planet’s future, say scientists, theguardian.com, 16 January). It’s clear that this diet offers both better health than the current norm of a high-meat diet, and a more environmental food production system with its emphasis on plant rather than animal production. However, I doubt the validity of some claims in the report.

The report states: “Food is the single strongest lever to optimise human health and environmental sustainability on Earth.” Population reduction is a much more powerful lever. It reduces not just the need for food, but also the need for energy, housing, transport, schools, climate change mitigation strategies and waste disposal.

Moreover, population reduction should be easier to effect than the proposed change of diet, the latter clearly being, as the report states, a daunting task. “Humanity has never aimed to change the global food system on the scale envisioned. Achieving this goal will require rapid adoption of numerous changes and unprecedented global collaboration and commitment.” Conversely, when women have access to education and contraception, they will not choose to have more children than they can support. Population decline follows. The provision of education for girls and women, and of contraception, needs only expansion of existing well-known programmes.
Richard Vernon
Iffley, Oxfordshire

 Your story oversimplifies a report that does not acknowledge the significant differences in farming methods and consumption patterns across the globe, and could serve to misinform readers about the realities of our fantastic livestock production here in Britain.

We do not yet understand the implications of a heavily plant-based diet like the report recommends on either our health or the environment. There is a very real possibility it could see us relying on imported produce, produced to lower standards than our own and with increased transport emissions.

In Britain we have extensive grasslands, which act as carbon stores helping to mitigate climate change. The most effective and sustainable way to use this land is to graze livestock, which will turn inedible grass into high-quality, grass-fed, nutrient-rich beef, lamb and dairy, all reared in an extensive system.

Your readers should be assured that when they buy British, they are buying a product that is high quality, safe and sustainable. It would be a shame if this report has the effect of undermining British farmers who do a fantastic job producing food for the nation, all while caring for our countryside.
Stuart Roberts Vice-president, NFU
John Davies President, NFU Cymru

 The survey featured in your article (Strongest opponents of GM foods know the least but think they know the most, theguardian.com, 14 January), contains flaws that question the validity of its conclusions. The UK government’s GM Nation? debate on GM crops and foods in 2002-03 included formal public engagement meetings. At these events, participants were presented with information on GM technology, including arguments for and against its application in agriculture.

The outcome was clear: the more knowledge about the subject the participants received, the greater was their concern, as reported by the Guardian at the time. The lesson learned from this exercise was that balanced scientific information on a technically complex subject such as GM must be provided so that people can make an informed decision. Thus the information gathered from surveys of the type featured in this latest article is meaningless, since no effort was made to educate the survey respondents on the topic in question.
Dr Michael Antoniou
Head, Gene Expression and Therapy Group, King’s College London

 Every January we get a shedload of articles in the media about health and diet followed by a plethora of correspondence arguing the points about what is good or bad, and what we should or should not eat and drink. It’s almost like having an annual Brexit debate and just as tedious.

I’ve discovered a highly nutritious way to get oils, fibre and fruit in one bite-sized package every Christmas: brazil nuts “enrobed” (as they say in the industry) in plain chocolate. I manage to make them last through January to help cope with all the newspaper articles, magazine supplements and TV programmes that bang on about diets. Balanced diets and all things in moderation (even chocolate coated brazil nuts).
Paul Faupel
Somersham, Cambridgeshire

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Sam Smith