* A paper was recently published, which claimed that adherence to the UK ‘Eatwell’ Guide (EWG) could reduce your risk of dying early and lower your environmental footprint.
* This note looks at the environmental footprint claim. The main claim in the abstract of the paper was that, of the nine ‘Eatwell’ recommendations, achieving the ≤ 70 grams a day of red and processed meat recommendation “was associated with the largest decrease in environmental footprints.”
* Details behind the claim were difficult to trace. A supplemental file to the EWG paper estimated calculations for Green House Gas (GHG) emissions and Water Footprint (WF) for 173 food sub-groups.
* Closer examination of the sub-groups revealed that GHG emission estimates put lamb as the worst food and sugar/sugar confectionery as the best. Manufactured foods fared better than homemade. The most nutritious foods were deemed worst for the planet and vice versa.
* Closer examination of the assumptions behind these estimations revealed three fundamental issues:
– Methane and nitrous oxide are assumed to be tens and hundreds (respectively) of times worse than CO2 in the GHG emission estimates. Ruminants are blamed for methane and agriculture generally is blamed for nitrous oxide.
– We are indebted to Frank M. Mitloehner for the exposé that these estimates absolutely don’t compare like with like. While everything – from birth to death – is counted for animal foods, barely anything is counted for plant foods.
– It is always assumed that plants are fed to animals. Animals can never win in this game, because the plant emissions are counted in the animal numbers before the animal emissions even start to be reviewed.
* There is a global food agenda, becoming increasingly sinister, which we need to wise up to. Health messages attacking meat, eggs and dairy have not achieved the desired plant-based global diet. Environmental messages are now being added in to achieve this goal and, I think, will soon replace health as the key rationale for the plant-based diet. Human and planet health requires ruminants building and protecting topsoil and eco systems, but this does not suit the agrichemical and big food agenda.
Last week we looked at a paper called “Health impacts and environmental footprints of diets that meet the Eatwell Guide recommendations: analyses of multiple UK studies” (Ref 1). The BMJ Open paper was an epidemiological study. Its aim was “To assess the health impacts and environmental consequences of adherence to national dietary recommendations (the Eatwell Guide (EWG)) in the UK.”
Last week we looked at the health claims in the paper. This week we’re looking at the environmental claims. Whereas data for 557,722 people were used in the health claims; data from 5,747 people were used in the environment claims. The data for these people came from the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS).
The paper reviewed adherence to the ‘Eatwell’ Guide, which was abbreviated to EWG throughout. The study defined nine food and nutrient groups with recommended levels of consumption specified in the EWG: fruit and vegetables (≥ 5 portions a day); oily fish (≥ 1 portion a week); other fish (≥ 1 portion a week); red and processed meat (≤ 70 grams a day); total fibre (≥ 30 grams a day); total salt (“never adding salt to food at the table or cooking”); free sugars (≤ 5% total energy); saturated fat (≤ 10% total energy); and total fat (≤ 33% total energy).”
The adherence to these measures was described as ‘very low’ (if 0–2 recommendations were met), ‘low’ (if 3–4 recommendations were met) or ‘intermediate-to-high’ (if 5–9 recommendations were met). The paper reported that “Less than 0.1% of the NDNS sample adhere to all nine EWG recommendations and 30.6% adhere to at least five recommendations.”
The environment claim
The abstract of the paper claimed that while adherence to the fruit and vegetable recommendation was associated with the best health outcome, adherence to the recommendation on red and processed meat was associated with the best environmental outcome. It was claimed that achieving the ≤ 70 grams a day of red and processed meat recommendation “was associated with the largest decrease in environmental footprints (−1.48 kg CO2eq/day, for GHGe and −22.5 L/day, for blue WF).” The abbreviations are CO2 equivalent (CO2eq), Green House Gas emissions (GHGe) and blue Water Footprint (WF).
The details behind the environmental claims were not in the main EWG paper. Some were in the 28 page supplemental file (Ref 2). Appendix 5 in the supplemental file presented calculations for mean (average) Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions (in kg) per kg food and mean (average) blue Water Footprint (WF) (in litres) per kg of food. This was done for 173 sub-groups. I’ve extracted a selection of the sub-groups (30) to illustrate the key points in a table below. I’ve chosen prime groups (e.g. polyunsaturated oils rather than a particular polyunsaturated spread) and different groups (e.g. lamb and bread, not several different types of cereal). I’ve sorted the table by GHG emissions – highest to lowest – and I’ve put animal foods in red.
The key points from the above table are:
1) Lamb was claimed to be the worst food. This surprised me because, if I look out of my window, the food that I can see is lamb, alongside beef/dairy, fish (on the horizon), vegetables and fruits in season and I know the chickens where my eggs come from are just out of sight down the road. (The photo for this post was taken on a dog walk in winter looking back at our village). In contrast, bananas scored 0.9 for GHG and 49 for WF despite the supplemental file admitting that bananas in the UK come from Columbia (23%), Costa Rica (18%) Dominican Republic (18%) Ecuador (14%) or elsewhere global (27%). How is transporting a banana from Columbia better for the planet than getting lamb from the local farmer?
2) Sugar and sugar confectionery were claimed to be the best ‘foods.’ I wouldn’t even call them food on the basis that food is defined as a substance providing nourishment. All soft drinks (sugared or sweetened, fizzy or still) were almost as wonderful as sugar/sugar confectionery.
3) Manufactured foods were consistently deemed better than homemade options. The examples above are biscuits, buns, cakes, and pastries, but this was a consistent pattern across the 173 sub-groups. This research is actively discouraging cooking and actively promoting fake food.
4) Animal foods generally were condemned as bad. All the foods at the top of the table are animal foods – only milk ends up ‘in the mix’ with plant foods lower down the table. Cottage cheese was bad, as was beef and butter. Other cheese wasn’t much better. Almond milk and soya milk were considered better than any natural dairy products. Among fish, shellfish were terrible (24.0 GHG score), canned tuna (not shown in my table) was worse than pizza, and oily fish was worse than chips from the takeaway.
5) This research supports the main message of the ‘Eatwell’ plate to “base your meals on starchy foods.” On the basis of the GHG calculations, starchy foods were good: pasta, cereals, rice, bread (any type), biscuits, fruit pies, buns, cakes, and pastries.
The list of 173 sub-groups demonstrates a strong relationship between the GHG estimate and nutrients in a food – the higher the GHG estimate, the more nutritious the food. I.e. the worse something is claimed to be for the planet, the more nutritious it is. These researchers seem to think that either we can thrive or the planet, but not both!
Many thanks to Dr Paul Mason for a tweet that alerted me to a paper on this topic (Ref 3). Drewnowski et al examined the relationship between GHG emissions and the energy and nutrient content of foods and found scientifically what I have just observed – “In general, a higher nutrient density of foods was associated with higher GHGEs per 100 kcal.” They called for considerations of the environmental impact of foods to be linked to concerns about nutrient density and health.
How did this happen?
Several references, dating back to 2006, were given in Appendix 6 of the supplemental file for these calculations/estimates. Almost all of them addressed one single food item e.g. “environmental impacts of carbonated soft drinks.” “The global warming potential of production and consumption of Kenyan tea.” Individual papers covered Darjeeling tea, Italian milk, Portuguese chicken production, beef in Mexico, pork in Catalonia, bananas in Ecuador, almonds, frozen desserts etc. The main EWG paper reported “Emissions of GHGs across the life cycle… were derived from the published data.” No details were provided to explain how they were derived and so we are just expected to trust them.
A 2014 paper called “Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK” was cited in the supplemental file and in the main EWG paper. This paper proposed scores for GHG emissions in kg per kg of food for 94 food commodities (Ref 4). The numbers differed from those in the EWG supplemental file, but the pattern of plants being good and animal foods being bad prevailed. The pattern between nutritious foods being high in GHG estimates and junk being low in GHG estimates also prevailed.
Three extracts from the 2014 “Dietary greenhouse gas emissions…” paper help us to understand a little of what is going on:
i) “Both methane and nitrous oxide are many times more potent GHGs than carbon dioxide and the majority of GHG emissions related to food are produced at the agricultural stage.”
ii) “There is considerable variation in the amount of GHG emissions related to different food groups, with animal-based products generally having much greater emissions than plant-based products per unit weight. This is largely because of the inefficiencies involved in growing cereal crops to be used as animal feed, and methane produced in the digestive system of ruminants.”
iii) “We estimated the GHG emissions associated with these 289 food codes, measured as kgCO2e (that is, kg of GHG weighted by global warming potential over a 100 year time frame, with carbon dioxide weighted as 1, methane weighted as 25 and nitrous oxide weighted as 298) per 100 g of food.”
I am barely going to be able to scratch the surface of this topic, and I am only going to look at Green House Gases and not water Footprint. I want to show three clear ways in which animal foods have been given no chance from the outset. Assumptions have been made in the creation of GHG emissions for different foods, which act against animal foods in dramatic and fundamental ways:
1) The methane and nitrous oxide issue.
I’m not going to challenge the assumption that three natural gases that make up 0.04% (CO2), 0.00017% (Methane) and 0.000033% (Nitrous Oxide) of the atmosphere and over which human influence is even smaller (0.0016% CO2) are destroying the planet.
Extracts (i) and (iii) above show that methane is weighted 25 times higher than CO2 and nitrous oxide almost 300 times higher. Methane is assumed in the paper to come from “enteric fermentation [a digestive process in which carbohydrates are broken down] in ruminant livestock” and nitrous oxide is assumed to come from “tilled and fertilised soils.”
Regarding methane, you have probably heard cows being blamed for farting. It would be more accurate to refer to ruminants, now just cows, and the action is burping, rather than farting. Weighting methane 25 times higher than CO2 damns animals from the outset. But what about human animals? We also need to break down carbohydrates. A 1991 experiment in 10 normal volunteers showed that adding 200g of baked beans to the daily diet resulted in considerable flatulence. Gases expelled included CO2, methane and an unidentified gas assumed to be nitrogen (Ref 5). “Ingestion of a ‘fibre free’ diet for 48 hours significantly reduced the total volume collected in 24 hours, reduced the carbon dioxide volume, and practically eradicated hydrogen production.”
Additionally, regarding methane estimates, a 2019 Cornell university study estimated that Fertilizer plants emit 100 times more methane than reported (Ref 6).
Regarding nitrous oxide, you can see how agriculture (tilling and fertilising soils) is damned and thus factory ‘food’ will win over farm food. You can see that tilling (natural airing of the soil) and fertilising (which can be natural with animal waste or unnatural with fossil fuel based chemicals) are lumped together, so that we can’t separate good farming from all farming. There is also the issue (see below) that it is assumed that crops are fed to animals and thus crop food emissions are added into animal food emissions ensuring that animal food emissions are always higher than crop emissions.
2) We are far from comparing like with like.
Frank M. Mitloehner (Professor of Animal Science and Air Quality Extension Specialist, University of California, Davis) must get the credit for this point. (Frank tweets as @GHGGuru). As detailed in this post, Frank pointed out in 2010 that “For livestock, they considered every factor associated with producing meat. This included emissions from fertilizer production, converting land from forests to pastures, growing feed, and direct emissions from animals (belching and manure) from birth to death.
However, when they looked at transportation’s carbon footprint, they ignored impacts on the climate from manufacturing vehicle materials and parts, assembling vehicles and maintaining roads, bridges and airports. Instead, they only considered the exhaust emitted by finished cars, trucks, trains and planes. As a result, the FAO’s comparison of greenhouse gas emissions from livestock to those from transportation was greatly distorted” (Ref 7).
I’ve just watched Diana Rodgers’ powerful film “Sacred Cow” (advance showing) and I was struck by the enormous steel silos blighting the landscape to hold corn and grains. The manufacture and maintenance of these metal ‘stadiums’ has not been factored in. Nor has the manufacture and maintenance of the plane that flies over the crops spraying pesticides. Nor has the manufacture of vast combine harvesters, which can cover five hectares of field every hour slaughtering rabbits, rodents, birds, and more along the way (Ref 8). These estimates haven’t got anywhere close to comparing like with like. While Frank secured a correction with his first raising of the issue, this stunt continues to be commonplace practice and the inequity is now ingrained.
3) It is assumed that plants are fed to animals.
Extract (ii) above confirms that it is assumed that plant-based foods are fed to animals and thus it is impossible for animal-based foods to beat plant-based foods. There is no entry in these food/GHG emission tables for animals living as they should be living – grazing the grass with water falling from the sky. Such animals need no soy or corn or irrigation. They build and protect topsoil for the planet as they graze, and they build and protect the eco system of grasses for birds, butterflies, insects, and micro-organisms etc as they graze. Please take 1-2 minutes to watch this fabulous video that Gareth Wyn Jones, a North Wales farmer, made especially for this note (Ref 9). (Gareth tweets as @1GarethWynJones)
Make no mistake, there is a global food agenda. The Eat Lancet diet is nutritionally deficient (Ref 10). It has the backing of agrichemical and biotech companies such as Bayer, Cargill, Dupont, Evonik, Syngenta, and big food such as Danone, Kellogg’s, Nestle, PepsiCo, and Unilever. The UK Eatwell Guide is nutritionally deficient (Ref 11). It was designed by representatives from industry bodies (Institute of Grocery Distribution, British Nutrition Foundation, British Retail Consortium, Food & Drink Federation and The Association for Convenience stores) and thus represents just about every fake food company you can think of (Ref 12).
There is a global agenda to promote fake food, plant foods, and carbohydrates and to concomitantly attack real food, animal foods, and fats. The nutritional science is unequivocal that animal foods are the most nutrient dense foods, and they provide nutrients in the form in which we need them. (And I wish this were not the case as a former vegan/vegetarian, but facts can be inconvenient). Animal foods are the least lucrative foods, however, and thus hold little interest to global conglomerates.
I am in a private chat group with Frank, Diana, Joanna Blythman, Belinda Fettke and a number of other thought leaders in the real food/farming arena and a post shared in the past couple of days was quite harrowing (Ref 13). There is growing concern about the prospect of a land grab to force overhaul of the food production system. The World Wildlife Fund would seem to have unlikely partners in Walmart, Amazon, Nestle, Danone, Unilever, and others in this plan. However, the green agenda is a perfect one for major corporations to hitch a ride to achieve their own agendas. This is the first I’ve heard of “The Great (land) Re-set” and I haven’t researched it further, but some of you may like to look into it more.
I said in last week’s note “I suspect that this two-fold strategy, of health and the environment, is going to be used more and more often to hammer home desired dietary messages.” I would go even further after the research for this week’s note to say, the environment argument may well take over from any health arguments and it could happen quickly and disingenuously. Our way of life is currently as different as it ever has been. Let’s not lose our way of eating while our attention is elsewhere.
Ref 1: Scheelbeek et al. Health impacts and environmental footprints of diets that meet the Eatwell Guide recommendations: analyses of multiple UK studies. BMJ Open. 2020. https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/10/8/e037554
Ref 2: bmjopen-2020-037554supp001.pdf
Ref 3: https://twitter.com/drpaulmason/status/1303554106007498752?s=11
Drewnowski et al. Energy and nutrient density of foods in relation to their carbon footprint. AJCN. 2014. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/101/1/184/4564263
Ref 4: Scarborough et al. Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK. Climatic Change. 2014. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-014-1169-1
Just the table: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-014-1169-1/tables/4
Ref 5: Tomlin et al. Investigation of normal flatus production in healthy volunteers. BMJ Gut. 1991. https://gut.bmj.com/content/gutjnl/32/6/665.full.pdf
Ref 6: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/06/190606183254.htm
Ref 7: https://theconversation.com/yes-eating-meat-affects-the-environment-but-cows-are-not-killing-the-climate-94968
Ref 8: Fischer B, Lamey AJJoA, Ethics E. Field Deaths in Plant Agriculture. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 2018.
Ref 9: https://twitter.com/1GarethWynJones/status/1309029350180782081
Ref 10: https://www.zoeharcombe.com/2019/01/the-eat-lancet-diet-is-nutritionally-deficient/
Ref 11: https://www.zoeharcombe.com/2018/07/the-eatwell-guide-is-nutritionally-deficient/
Ref 12: https://www.zoeharcombe.com/2016/03/eatwell-guide-conflicts-of-interest/
Ref 13: https://agmoos.com/2020/09/27/dairy-checkoff-at-globalization-table-where-big-players-plan-great-re-set/