Food, Farming and Countryside Commission

Deliberative process around EAT-Lancet

By Professor Tom MacMillan

RSA House, London

The EAT-Lancet Commission, which backed a global shift towards ‘plant-based diets’, was met with a polarised reaction.

It recommended that their global approach be subject to local interpretation, which is what we set out to do, bringing 30 diverse stakeholders, including outspoken critics, together for a deliberative process. They worked together to develop new scenarios to be modelled by Dr Marco Springmann, who did the work behind EAT-Lancet’s recommendations.

The group debated uncertainties in the evidence behind the model, including the impact of methane from cattle and sheep on global warming, and the effect of meat on health. They decided to model a pasture-based scenario – milk and meat fed largely from forage – alongside a diet with more veg and nuts. The modelling found little difference between the new scenario and EAT-Lancet’s when it came to health, but EAT-Lancet’s scenario performed better on climate change.

We found that despite farmers’ concerns that the original study was ‘anti-meat’, the amount of meat in the pasture-based scenario did not differ hugely from EAT-Lancet’s recommendations, though the type of meat did. Eating more veg, nuts and pulses, and eating less calories overall, were the biggest health wins, and much larger factors than reducing unprocessed red meat consumption. It was felt that better data and accounting for methane emissions could close the gap between the scenarios on climate change.

This participatory modelling demonstrates the potential for policies that recognise the need for change while respecting the important concerns of farmers and others. Building and holding a mandate for progress when views are polarised is likely to require large-scale, legitimate engagement, for example through a citizens’ assembly. Find out more in the Commission’s final report.