World Health Organization Head Calls For Plant-Based Diet Shift

A growing number of public figures are urging dietary shifts


3 Minutes Read

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Chief of the World Health Organization calls for plant-based dietary shift - Media Credit: Alamy

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has said a shift towards more plant-based diets is “essential” for the health of people and planet. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s Director-General, made the comments in a video during COP28, the UN Climate Summit that took place in Dubai in December 2023. 

He noted that food production is responsible for “almost one third of the global burden of disease” and 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The majority of these emissions are from animal agriculture. 

“Transforming food systems is therefore essential, by shifting towards healthier, diversified, and more plant-based diets.”

Growing calls for plant-based diets

Dr Ghebreyesus joins a growing chorus of high-profile voices highlighting the benefits of plant-based diets. 

In an episode of Planet Earth III that aired on the BBC in December 2023, Sir David Attenborough told viewers that “the vast majority of agricultural land – more than 75 percent – is used to raise livestock and this is very inefficient.” He praised plant-based diets for being “so much more efficient,” requiring “a quarter of the land” used by farming animals.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg has been a vocal advocate for veganism as a solution to the climate and nature crises. 

In September 2023, more than 650 academics backed an open letter coordinated by Plant Based Universities for British universities to adopt plant-based catering to fight the climate crisis. Signatories included Imperial College’s Professor Frank Kelly, an expert in public health, and UCL’s Professort of Earth Sciences, Chris Rapley.

COP28 progress on food systems

A selection of plant foods
marilyn barbone – Plant-based food has a far smaller environmental impact than animal-based food

COP28 marked the first time that food system transformation has made it into the final text agreed by the nations at a COP summit. In the UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate Action, governments acknowledge that farmers need help adapting to climate change and pledge to reduce their countries’ agricultural emissions.

But commitments on building a more sustainable food system have been criticized as vague and not ambitious enough. Though reducing the numbers of animals farmed for food is crucial to cutting emissions and agriculture’s impact on nature, this did not make it into the COP texts.

Some governments and are independently forging on with trying to encourage the uptake of plant-based diets. 

In 2023, Denmark became the first country in the world to publish a roadmap to make its food system more plant-based. The Swiss government’s new climate strategy suggests reducing the country’s meat consumption. Germany’s National Nutrition Strategy, published in June 2022, features increasing plant-based food as one of its central goals.

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