Ireland’s dietary habits need to change to protect public health and the environment

By Leanne Dempsey Policy News   |   16th May 2023

The Climate and Health Alliance claims our current food system is “like a slow-motion disaster”, fuelling premature death and disability due to diet-related chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type two diabetes and obesity.

The position paper, ‘Fixing Food Together: transitioning Ireland to a healthy and sustainable food system’ – provides a damning indictment of the health and environmental consequences of how our food is produced and consumed.

The lobby group wants a special Cabinet sub-committee to oversee a food revolution – and the farming industry to be a key part of the solution.

And it warns that a lack of food system policies to shape a healthy food environment has caused ultra-processed foods and excessive red and processed meat to dominate the Irish diet at the expense of fruit, vegetables, plant proteins, wholegrains, and sustainable seafood.

“This is like a slow-motion disaster unfolding before our eyes,”

Tim Collins, Chief Executive of the Irish Heart Foundation and one of the Climate and Health Alliance’s founding members

“The global food system we have created can feed the world but has also made us heavier and sicker, it destroys wildlife, pollutes our rivers and air and produces a third of our greenhouse gas emissions.

“In Ireland, we now have a disturbing overconsumption-undernutrition paradox.”

The 138-page report, whose lead author is Irish Heart Foundation Dietitian Orna O’Brien, draws on previous research and is being launched at a conference organised by the Climate and Health Alliance in Dublin today, (May 16) attended by Minister of State Pippa Hackett and experts from the UK and Ireland.

It recommends six key areas where Ireland needs to drive change:

  1. Ending the junk food cycle
  2. Promoting transition away from over-consumption of processed foods to a more plant-based diet including beans, peas and lentils
  3. Harnessing the power of international and national guidelines
  4. Reducing food waste
  5. Improving agricultural practices and land use
  6. Using a policy approach to affect behaviour change

“We need to more than halve the carbon footprint of what we eat, and to achieve such a huge reduction we need to focus on policy level changes and structural systems changes,”

Orna O’Brien, Dietitian, Irish Heart Foundation and Lead Author of the report

The report coincides with new Ipsos research commissioned by the Irish Heart Foundation, showing just one in five of us understand how large an impact reducing our intake of red and processed meat or ultra-processed foods will have on lowering greenhouse gases.

Nearly 40%, however, say public information campaigns should be developed to reduce excessive consumption of such foods and promote healthier, more sustainable foods.

Almost a third (32%) would favour higher taxes being levied on unhealthy and unsustainable foods.

Crucially, nearly two-thirds (64%), believe the Government is not providing enough funding or support to farmers to encourage climate-change practices.

“These findings relate to what the Climate and Health Alliance paper is saying: our current food system is harming human and planetary health and we need to transition to a healthy food system in Ireland in partnership with the agriculture industry,”

Tim Collins

“Poor diet kills one in five people globally.

“We need to question our fixation on red meat and processed foods and realise if we eat to maintain a healthy weight and not overeat, this reduces food waste and means we are not contributing to extra greenhouse gas emissions.

“It is no longer acceptable to chase economic gain at the expense of the environment.”

The Climate and Health Alliance is made up of a range of medical, health and social care professional organisations, non-governmental organisations, public health organisations and advocacy groups from the island of Ireland.

It seeks to highlight the enormous public health harms that arise from climate change while emphasising the significant health benefits that can be unlocked by tackling global warming; provide a platform for health professionals and organisations to act; and advocate for greater Government action in addressing the climate crisis.

Read the full report here.



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