April 29, 2019

EAT-Lancet Commission launch takes place—without WHO sponsorship

EAT-Lancet Commission launch takes place—without WHO sponsorship

International policymakers are starting to take note of the glaring flaws in the EAT-Lancet report, a recommended global diet that some claim would improve both health and the environment through a dramatic shift away from animal products.

Since the global diet plan was published in January 2019, agriculture and nutrition experts have pointed out that the report:

  • Proposes a diet that would be nutritionally deficient for many around the world.
  • Ignores the proven nutritional benefits of animal products.
  • Misrepresents how livestock grazing land is used, ignoring the fact that most grazing land is unsuitable for planting crops.
  • Overlooks livestock production as a source of economic stability for millions across Asia and Africa.
  • Miscalculates how methane is actually broken down in the atmosphere.
  • Downplays practical steps for actually improving sustainability and food security, such as reducing food waste and investing in biotechnology. (See full article here for more)

Now Ingrid Torjesen reports in the British Journal of Medicine (BJM) that the World Health Organization (WHO), an agency of the United Nations, actually dropped their sponsorship of the launch of the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health, a group aiming to make the diet a reality. The launch event was planned for March 28 in Geneva, Switzerland, and took place instead with sponsorship from the government of Norway.

According to the BJM, the move to pull WHO support came after Gian Lorenzo Cornado, Italy’s ambassador and permanent representative of Italy to the international organizations in Geneva, questioned the scientific evidence for the recommended diet.

Cornado reportedly wrote a letter to Union Nations permanent representatives and other international officials in March which stated that the idea of one diet for the entire planet had “no scientific justification at all.” Cornado also expressed concerns that pushing for the EAT-Lancet diet would lead to the losses of millions of jobs and destroy traditional diets important to culture heritage. Cornado’s office followed up with a press release that also questioned the objectivity of the EAT-Lancet authors.

In an email response to Cornado, EAT-Lancet study authors reportedly disagreed with these claims, stating that the diet would not cause economic depression and that their recommendations could be adapted to fit cultures around the world (a claim refuted in a BMJ Rapid Response).

The authors also argue that they do not support centralized control of global diets; however, it is worth noting that the EAT-Lancet report does support an “international policy framework” for promoting the diet. The authors also encourage national governments to pass “hard policy interventions” to meet the diet recommendations through “laws, fiscal measures, subsidies and penalties, trade reconfiguration, and other economic and structural measures.” (See section 4: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(18)31788-4/fulltext)

Meanwhile, WHO has not offered many details on their decision, telling BMJ that a WHO representative did still serve on a panel for the event and that “WHO considers the Geneva launch event and the EAT-Lancet Commission to be relevant to advance WHO’s work on healthy diets.”