Despite occasional calls by food activist groups to adopt solely plant-based diets in the name of ²health and sustainability, only a small number of studies globally have begun to examine impacts of dietary patterns on use of natural resources and environmental impacts. Standardized data on environmental impacts of foods, evaluated comprehensively, are needed to assess impacts of different dietary patterns. At present, it is not possible to make informed decisions about optimal eating patterns from an integrated view, that is, nutritional adequacy and environmental sustainability.
Tackling food waste (edible materials intended for human consumption) is considered to be a quick win by many. It has been estimated by FAO that globally as much as 30% of food is wasted either before it reaches the consumer (on farm, during transport or processing) or after it has been purchased. Perhaps the greatest impediment to increasing consumption of dairy products in low income populations is their price. Like other animal-source foods, dairy products tend to be an expensive source of energy compared with cereal staples.
As the world population continues to increase, it will become even more critical to provide nutrient rich foods for health in a way that addresses the health of individuals, communities and the planet. “Better nutrition” must address both quality of nutrients, which vary according to their source (animal vs. plant), and quantity of nutrients sourced through a wide variety of foods. The production and distribution of those foods must be accomplished while reducing environmental impact and increasing access and affordability. Applying the multiple “filters” noted above, milk and milk products should be endorsed as an integral component of healthy eating patterns. These foods are:
Dairy sector development programs highlight the pivotal role of milk and dairy products in the diets of people worldwide. Benefits have been varied, but include high nutritional quality of a wide range of products; economic growth through jobs and income; environmental stewardship through research and education efforts that promote sustainable practices. References and further information on the role of dairy in sustainable nutrition is available at www.idfdairynutrition.org
Main source of information: ‘Milk and Dairy Products in Human Nutrition’, FAO, 2013