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Healthier ready-to-eat meals would have ‘huge’ EU climate benefits – report
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Healthier ready-to-eat meals would have ‘huge’ EU climate benefits – report

Healthier ready-to-eat meals could cut EU emissions by 48m tonnes annually and save customers €2.8bn (£2.4bn) each year, as well as reducing disease, a report has found.

Fast food and ready meals provide more than a sixth of the EU’s calories but contain far more salt and meat than doctors recommend, according to an analysis from the consultancy Systemiq commissioned by environmental nonprofit organisations Fern and Madre Brava.

They found that placing minimum health and sustainability standards on the companies who sell most of them would yield “huge” benefits to society.

“Making ready meals healthier and more sustainable is a no-regrets policy,” said Eduardo Montero Mansilla from the Spanish Consumers and Users’ Federation, one of 10 non-governmental organisations that co-authored the report. “We can improve the health of people and the planet at affordable prices.”

The report explored the effects of making big food companies comply with diets from the World Health Organization, which aims to avoid malnutrition and non-communicable disease, and the EAT-Lancet Commission, which tries to reduce environmental as well as human harm.

In both cases, they found that ready-to-eat meals would need to contain about half as many refined grains and two-thirds less meat, on average, as well as “significantly” more legumes.

While the report found that would save consumers €2.8bn in cheaper food and cut emissions by 48m tonnes each year, it did not count the additional economic benefits of hospitals spending less money on treating patients and employers losing less money from workers taking sick days.

“We are currently living in a diet-related health crisis,” said Alba Gil from the European Public Health Alliance, which co-authored the report. “Our dietary habits shape our health, and therefore our future. It makes only sense that policymakers regulate the environments where we consume food to make it healthy and affordable by design.”

Livestock are responsible for 12-20% of planet-heating pollution and increase the levels of some heart diseases and cancers in rich countries where the average person eats more meat than doctors recommend.

Climate scientists are clear that swapping from animal to plant-based proteins is a powerful step to keep the planet from heating, though doctors are unsure just how little meat is best for human health. The EAT-Lancet Commission, which is meeting this year to propose a wider range of diets and address concerns about micronutrient shortfalls in its planetary health diet, currently advises eating meat about once a week and fish twice a week.

The NGOs called on the EU to require big food companies to comply with health and sustainability guidelines for ready-made meals sold in the EU. The report did not analyse how consumers would respond to such a proposal.

Paul Behrens, an environmental change researcher at Leiden University who has studied food systems, who was not involved in the study, said: “This report is pragmatic in suggesting that not every meal has to be optimally healthy, but that the overall offering of caterers and retailers should meet dietary guidelines.”

He added: “If policymakers followed this advice, it would create a far healthier food culture that would benefit the planet, our wellbeing, and our wallets.”

Source: theguardian.com