FAO: Mediterranean dietary shift threatens health and environment

By Caroline SCOTT-THOMAS contact

- Last updated on GMT

The Mediterranean diet's focus on plant-based foods and moderate intake of fish and meat, has been associated with health - and is relatively light on the environment
The Mediterranean diet's focus on plant-based foods and moderate intake of fish and meat, has been associated with health - and is relatively light on the environment

Related tags: Mediterranean diet, Agriculture

The Mediterranean diet has been held up as a model of healthy eating around the world, but the region itself is seeing a shift away from traditional diets, threatening health and the environment, says the FAO.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has partnered with the International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM) on a new report​ detailing shifting dietary patterns in the Mediterranean region. It says consumption of fruits and legumes is declining in favour of increased meat and dairy.

"The Mediterranean diet is nutritious, integrated in local cultures, environmentally sustainable and it supports local economies,"​ said Alexandre Meybeck, coordinator of FAO's Sustainable Food Systems Program. "This is why it's essential that we continue to promote and support it."

Globalisation, food marketing, and the shifting role of women in society – among other lifestyle changes – have led to a decline in traditional food production and preparation, the report warns, leading to a rise in diet-related disease and obesity. Meanwhile, southern Mediterranean countries still have high rates of under nutrition and stunting among children.

In addition, changes in food demand have led to traditional crops being replaced by monoculture production or food imports, and the report estimates that only 10% of traditional local crop varieties are still being cultivated in the region. Apart from health impacts, the report also highlights potential environmental harm of lower reliance on local foods.

“Increased adherence to the Mediterranean diet will improve dietary diversity and plant-based food consumption, with lower GHG emissions,”​ the report said. “It will contribute to reducing biodiversity loss and consumption of animal-based food (meat, dairy products) and the use of natural resources, especially water, thus increasing food production, and effectively contributing to climate change mitigation.It is particularly important to take into consideration the fact that water resources are becoming very scarce in the Mediterranean region.”

FAO and CIHEAM presented the report at EXPO Milano on Thursday, and urged efforts to preserve the region’s food systems, to improve their sustainability, and ensure food security and nutrition for a growing population.

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