Less Beef, More Beans Equals Smelly Report

"The emissions from EAT-Lancet's global launch tour will persist in the environment far longer than methane from livestock animals." ( FJM )

If the world were to adopt the new dietary guidelines proposed by the EAT-Lancet Commission – less beef, more beans – the world would get a whiff of exactly what the EAT-Lancet report smells like.

Maybe that’s just my opinion, but it’s kinda the take of one of America’s leading air quality experts, too.

“The emissions from EAT-Lancet's global launch tour will persist in the environment far longer than methane from livestock animals," says Frank Mitloehner, Professor and Air Quality Extension Specialist, Department of Animal Science, University of California/Davis. (Follow him on Twitter @GHGGuru.)

But make no mistake, the release (no pun intended) of the 50-page report proposing a “universal healthy reference diet” that purports to improve the health of both humans and the planet is more than just another anti-livestock press release. The report is based on the conclusions of a group of 19 commissioners and 18 coauthors in various fields of human health, agriculture, political science and environmental sustainability.

(Read: The Pork Industry Calls EAT-Lancet Report Radical, Irresponsible)

Greg HendersonIf such credentials sound trustworthy that’s how they are intended. Media organizations around the world are already touting this report as the new model to be followed. Here are some sample headlines: “Less beef, more beans: experts say the world needs a new diet;” “Red meat is wrecking havoc on the Earth. So stop it!” and, “A bit of meat, a bit of veg – the flexitarian diet to feed 10 billion.”

But… phew! The authors’ credentials are called dubious by many dietitians, food groups, livestock organizations and others.

“Read the EAT-Lancet report with great caution, as it lacks any kind of scientific rigor and only serves to misguide Americans on their nutritional health,” says the Nutrition Coalition, a non-profit founded in 2015, with the primary goal of ensuring the U.S. nutrition policy is based on rigorous scientific evidence.

Just what are the recommendations of EAT-Lancet? The report recommends you eat 125g per day of dry beans, lentils, peas, soy foods, peanuts and tree nuts. That’s almost 18 times the amount of beef and lamb the report recommends. In fact, EAT-Lancet says you should eat only one-quarter ounce of beef per week, which means North Americans would need to cut red meat consumption by 84% to comply. Oh, the report also recommends a tax on meat.

While the report’s authors believe such drastic dietary changes would improve human health, they also believe those alterations would help solve climate change since they seem convinced cows are the root cause.

But UC Davis professor Mitloehner has a different take.

“EAT-Lancet's own analysis shows the Commission's recommended reference diet has almost no environmental benefit over ‘business as usual’ diet scenarios,” he says. “While EAT-Lancet claims their reference diet would decrease greenhouse gas emissions, the Commission's fundamentally flawed data fail to account for methane reduction (via oxidation) that occurs naturally, as methane remains in the atmosphere for only ten years.”

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, in a statement on behalf of the Beef Checkoff said:

“Cattle are solar-powered, mobile and self-replicating, and have been providing meat, milk, fuel, draft power, fiber, and wealth to humanity for millennia. Decades of research shows that beef promotes health and helps prevent human nutrient deficiencies.  Environmentally, cattle play a unique role in our food system because they upgrade inedible plants to high-quality protein.  History and well-established research have consistently shown that science-based advancements and practical, balanced dietary patterns promote health and sustainability, not eliminating single foods, like beef. Most people are already eating beef within global dietary guidelines, so we assert the biggest opportunity for a healthy sustainable diet will come from reducing food waste, eating fewer empty calories and enjoying more balanced meals.”

North American Meat Institute Director of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs KatieRose McCullough said, “The report's 'fad diet' approach that recommends people radically reduce or even eliminate meat from their diets could have substantial damaging public health consequences."

Hmmm. Fad diet, as in vegetarian-like. It’s no wonder, since one of the chief authors behind the EAT-Lancet report is Professor Walter Willett, has long been criticized for conflicts of interest which lead to many questioning his unbiased views on a vegan/vegetarian diet. The Nutrition Coalition says the Harvard T.S. Chan School of Public Health, of which Willett is director, has received between $455,000 and $1.5 million from companies or groups interested in promoting vegetarian products or the vegetarian diet generally.

The Nutrition Coalition also says Willett has published more than 200 papers based on epidemiological data (which can show association but cannot demonstrate cause-and-effect) that argue against consumption of red meat in favor of a more plant-based diet.

Double-hmmmm. That, friends, is how you make a report smell like methane.