Plant-based diets can tackle obesity and climate crisis, EU’s top scientific adviser says

Eric Lambin, member of the European Commission’s Chief Scientific Advisory Group and co-author of Towards Sustainable Food Consumption, stressed that plant-based diets can boost human health, combat climate change and enable more sustainable food systems.

In a recent interview published by Horizon magazine, Lambin, professor of geography and sustainability sciences at the University of Leuven in Belgium, discussed the need for a more sustainable and healthy food system. “We now face a public health crisis – widespread overweight, obesity and malnutrition – and a global environmental crisis,” he said in the interview.

To address obesity and climate change, Lambin recommends switching to a plant-based diet that emphasizes legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, reduces meat consumption, and prioritizes sustainably sourced fish and seafood. He also noted the need to reduce food waste and minimize unnecessary use of resources.

Scale of animal husbandry.

Regarding meat, he highlighted the significant impact of animal agriculture on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Lambin said livestock account for more than 14 percent of human greenhouse gas emissions, more than all the world’s cars and trucks. The farming of meat, especially beef, contributes to climate change directly through methane emissions and indirectly through deforestation for pasture and animal feed production.

Lambin stressed that the public often underestimates the size of the livestock industry. In fact, two-thirds of global agricultural land is dedicated to grazing, and 40% of arable land is used for animal feed production.

Talking about consumers, he said buyers play a vital role in driving change through informed purchasing decisions. However, Lambin noted that personal and external factors such as price, information, social and cultural norms influence consumer behavior. Therefore, a variety of measures targeting the entire food environment are needed.

Promote greener food.

Regarding the EU’s role in promoting healthier and greener food, Lambin recommended policy measures targeting the entire “food environment” – from consumers to food suppliers, producers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers. Steps include adjusting subsidies, developing labels and expanding carbon pricing schemes. Lambin also recommended a range of complementary policies based on pricing, information and regulation.

Lambin also addressed the issue of the balance between international and local food trade, emphasizing that locally produced food is not always more sustainable than imported food. However, the EU can restrict imports from areas where food production causes severe environmental damage, such as biodiversity-rich ecosystems and water-scarce areas.