Implications and impacts of aligning regional agriculture with a healthy diet

Ryan T. Sharp, Angelina Sanderson Bellamy, Adrian Clear, Samantha Mitchell Finnigan, Ella Furness, Elliot Meador, Helen Metcalfe, Susanna Mills, Kevin Coleman, Andrew P. Whitmore, Alice E. Milne*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

One of the most intractable challenges currently facing agricultural systems is the need to produce sufficient food for all to enjoy a healthy balanced diet while minimising impacts to the environment. Balancing these competing goals is especially intractable because most food systems are not locally bounded. This study aims to investigate the likely impacts on production, profit and the environment that result from aligning food systems to a healthy diet, as defined by EAT-Lancet. For this, we consider two distinct areas of the UK, one in East Anglia and the other in South Wales. These two regions reflect different ecosystems and therefore differing specialisations in UK agriculture. We used the Rothamsted Landscape Model (a detailed agroecosystems process-based model) to predict soil carbon dynamics, nutrient flows and crop production for the dominant crops grown in these regions, and the IPCC inventory models to estimate emissions from six livestock systems. Two scenarios were considered, one in which the study regions had to meet healthy diet requirements independently of each other and another in which they could do so collectively. To map their production to healthy diets, both study areas require increases in the production of plant proteins and reductions in the production of red meat. While changes in production can feed more people a healthy diet compared to the business-as-usual state, the overall calories produced reduces dramatically. Emissions and leaching decrease under the healthy diet scenarios and pesticide impacts remain largely unchanged. We show that local infrastructure and environment have a bearing on how “localised” food systems can be without running into substantial constraints. Whilst isolation of the farming system to a regional level, as explored here, is unlikely to be practical, we nevertheless demonstrate that aligning agricultural production towards healthier diets can generate food systems with many associated benefits in terms of agroecosystems' health and resilience to shocks in the food supply chain.

Original languageEnglish
Article number141375
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Volume449
Early online date5 Mar 2024
DOIs
Publication statusPrint publication - 10 Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Authors

Keywords

  • Agricultural systems model
  • EAT-Lancet
  • Environmental impact quotient
  • Food production systems
  • Healthy diets
  • Sustainability of agriculture

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