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Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Jul;100 Suppl 1:483S-9S. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.071209. Epub 2014 May 28.

Protein production: planet, profit, plus people?

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From the Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM), VU University, De Boelelaan, Amsterdam, Netherlands.


Food sustainability and food security are increasingly in the spotlight and increasingly intertwined. According to some projections we will need to nearly double food production in the next 4 decades. This article argues that protein production and consumption are pivotal to sustainability, because anthropogenic contributions to the nitrogen cycle are 100-200% compared with a contribution of 1-2% to the carbon cycle by mineral fuel combustion, with biodiversity as the main casualty. Because 1 kg animal protein requires ∼ 6 kg plant protein, its large-scale production by means of factory farming is a major driver of biodiversity loss, climate change, and freshwater depletion. Furthermore, intensive livestock production is associated with antibiotics resistance and increasing incidence of emerging diseases. Therefore, a "reversed" diet transition back to less animal protein could make a difference. Some European countries, such as the United Kingdom, Sweden, and The Netherlands, have published integrated policy reports addressing food security, sustainability, and health combined. The food industry is focusing on food safety and increasingly on sustainability. An important issue is consumer communication, because consumer "framing" is radically different from that of governmental and industrial policy makers. There is no "one size fits all." A huge range of differences exists between countries and between distinct groups of consumers within countries; getting consumers to change their diets in a more sustainable direction is likely to require much more than gentle nudging. National governments and the United Nations should assume their responsibilities and initiate a global strategy integrating sustainability, food security, nutrition, and equity. To date, the profit pillar of sustainability has taken precedence over planet and people. It is time to redress the balance.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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