On World Nutrition Day in May more than 200 NHS doctors and other health professionals wrote an open letter to NHS leaders and the UK Government urging them to make radical changes to the current unsustainable and unhealthy food system. The letter received considerable attention on social media and was also published in The Metro.
The letter was produced by Plant Based Health Professionals UK, a rapidly growing organisation of doctors and health professionals whose aims are:
- to promote plant based nutrition for the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases
- to education health professionals and the public on wholefood plant based nutrition and
- to provide evidence-based recommendations for public policy on nutrition.
The letter stresses the need for rapid, nationwide changes to the obesogenic and unsustainable food environment in the UK, which has added to the UK’S COVID-19 death toll.
Three in four of the world’s new or emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic and are mainly transmitted through wildlife trade and factory farming. This combined with the increasing demand for cheap meat and dairy is contributing to environmental degradation and the rise of antibiotic resistance. The letter also stresses that 90% of global wild fish stocks have been over-fished or fished at capacity and farmed fish are contaminated with antibiotics and chemicals that pose a risk to human health.
Poor nutrition is of particular importance to communities of lower socio-economic means and is disproportionately affecting minority ethnic communities which makes them particularly vulnerable to disease.
The letter proposes changes such as the banning of subsidies and introduction of taxes for junk food, soft drinks and animal farming; banning of advertising which increases the consumption of unhealthy foods and importantly the introduction of subsidies to move towards a predominantly whole food plant based diet in order to improve human and planetary health.
The full letter is available to read at Plant-Based Health Professionals UK and you can see a video of the doctors talking about the urgent need for change.
The government is developing a new national food strategy for England and is now consulting with individuals, organisations and businesses. The strategy, which is due to be published in 2020, recognises that food production has a huge impact on the environment, human health and the economy. It acknowledges that the growth of the human population poses huge risks to the food and water supply and that there are new risks posed by anti-microbial resistance. All of these factors would be improved by a move to a sustainable plant-based food production system and this is your opportunity to influence the strategy.
Please comment and say why we should move to a sustainable plant-based food system in the UK. The deadline is Friday, 25 October. Comments are welcome from individuals or vegan businesses.
The strategy will cover the entire food chain, from field to fork: the production, marketing, processing, sale and purchase of food (for consumption in the home and out of it), and the consumer practices, resources and institutions involved in these processes.
Requirements from the government
The government wants a food system that:
- delivers safe, healthy, affordable food; regardless of where people live or how much they earn
- is robust in the face of future shocks
- restores and enhances the natural environment for the next generation in this country
- is built upon a resilient, sustainable and humane agriculture sector
- is a thriving contributor to our urban and rural economies, delivering well paid jobs and supporting innovative producers and manufacturers across the country
- delivers all this in an efficient and cost effective way
Points you may wish to make
Comments should be 1000 words or fewer. You might like to choose from the following points or make your own comments:
- The government has declared a climate emergency so now is the time to put this into action in this food strategy. Eating animal products has a huge environmental impact and it is clear that we will not be able to meet the Paris Agreement, and achieve net zero carbon emissions, unless as a nation we make a rapid move towards plant-based diets.
- The recent IPCC report on land use (2019) says that we must change the way we produce food and manage land. Agriculture and forestry produces almost a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. With a growing population we cannot continue to use land in the same way and we are now very close to dangerous tipping points. Meat and dairy consumption will have to be cut and there needs to be a major shift to healthy and sustainable plant-based diets such as grains, pulses, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Plant-based foods require less land, less water, produce less pollution on land and in the sea, and produce far less greenhouse gases than animal-based foods.
- Oxford University research (Poore et al, 2018) found that adopting a plant-based diet is the “single biggest thing” individuals can do for the planet and EAT-Lancet, the latest international, peer-reviewed project of its kind, said that planetary boundaries and human health require a move towards plant-based diets.
- Fish consumption should be cut drastically in order to prevent the loss of ocean biodiversity, habitat degradation and to reduce pollution (WWF, 2015). Ocean fishing produces nearly half of all plastic debris in the oceans (Lebreton, 2018). Fish farming isn’t the answer: farmed fish are treated with large amounts of pesticides and antibiotics to treat diseases, particularly sea lice, which are rife in such overcrowded conditions, further exacerbating the problem of antibiotic resistance in humans. The farms pollute the surrounding water with faeces and food waste, contaminating the water and producing methane, a potent greenhouse gas (Poore et al, 2018). One alternative for areas currently dependent upon fish farming is the move to properly managed seaweed farming which is currently underexploited in Europe (Campbell et al, 2019).
- Poor diet is now the number one cause of death and disability in the UK resulting in a rising burden of obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer (Newton et al, 2015). Wholefood plant-based foods are healthier than meat and dairy and reduce the risk of these diseases which cost society billions, relieving pressure on the NHS and care sector (Fraser, 2009).
- There should be a rapid move from subsidies that support animal farming to subsidies for plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruit, pulses and grains. This would help farmers to move to plant-based farming and improve the availability of healthy plant-based foods throughout the country.
- Plant-based foods, particularly those produced without the use of animal manures, cause less food-borne infections than animal-based foods such as chicken and eggs. The move to plant-based foods would reduce the incidence of these diseases and therefore relieve the pressure on health care systems.
- Plant-based foods bring investment into urban and rural economies, e.g. Heather Mills’ “vegan northern powerhouse” is already bringing investment into the north east of England.
- The move to a plant-based diet could be encouraged by implementing inclusive and sustainable policies for public sector institutions such as schools, hospitals and care homes to offer good vegan meals as standard on menus every day. Skills in cooking plant-based foods should be part of the school curriculum so that all children are able to create healthy and tasty meals.
- Farmers should be supported financially and practically, in the move away from farming animals to producing sustainable plant crops or ecological restoration. The Vegan Society’s Grow Green campaign should be extended and widely promoted.
Leave your comment with the government now