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The science is there with proof of agriculture's essential role in delivering global health and nutrition, and underpinning farming's social licence for responsible production

The science is there with proof of agriculture's essential role in delivering global health and nutrition, and underpinning farming's social licence for responsible production
The Sustainable Nutrition Initiative work at the Riddet Institute

New Zealand food and related sciences research centre, the Riddet Institute, leads the world in modelling the contribution of global and New Zealand agricultural production to meeting the nutritional needs of the world’s population.

The Sustainable Nutrition Initiative team which comprises food and nutrition scientists and mathematical modellers has developed the DELTA model to test various scenarios for globally sustainable food production. The model demonstrates the bioavailability and source of nutrients from all plant and animal based foods.

Because the DELTA model is entirely scientific evidence-based and uses World Health Organisation and other universally accepted statistical data, the outputs are totally free of emotion or bias. The good news for farmers, whether meat, dairy or horticulture, is they are critical to enabling the growing world population to avoid micronutrient deficiency.

The SNI work is agnostic on the importance of different types of food required to produce a globally sustainable diet, concluding all food types contribute essential elements to the nutritional system. In many cases these nutrients are either not or nowhere near as efficiently available from any other source. As an example 100g of red meat produces the same amount of iron as 1.4kg of spinach which suggests Popeye would have done better on a more meat based diet.

Exports of agricultural commodities are traditionally measured in dollars and tonnes, but another method is to measure their nutritional contribution.

A recent NZX dairy outlook paper shows the global dairy sector contributes 49% of consumed Calcium required for bone, teeth and muscle maintenance, 24% of Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) for cell production throughout the body and 22% of vitamin B12 supporting nerve health, DNA and red blood production and maintaining brain function. New Zealand dairy exports are sufficient to supply the Calcium requirements of 46 million people, Vitamins B2 and B12 of 39 million and 29 million respectively, plus 20 million people’s protein needs.

Like dairy, meat is also nutrient dense containing high levels of B Vitamins, certain minerals and high quality protein. In 2018 global meat production contributed about 7% of total food mass, but a significantly higher percentage of macronutrients (food energy availability, dietary fat and protein), certain Vitamins, and several trace elements, notably zinc, selenium and iron.

Neither dairy nor meat is a good source of all nutrients, making negligible contributions to the availability of carbohydrates, fibre, and Vitamins C and E. Rice, wheat, fruit and vegetables are essential components of a balanced diet, underlining the importance of such a diet to the world’s health needs. SNI team leader, Professor Warren McNab, told me the model does not take relative economic factors into account, because obviously each country and individual consumers have different opportunities to access sources of nutrients.

Distribution and availability of food cause imbalances and wastage which includes overconsumption in wealthier countries. Waste is heavily weighted towards wealth on the logical principle of the more you eat, the more you waste, although a greater proportion of wastage is in low density foods like fruit and vegetables.

SNI’s works with MPI to identify the ideal diet for New Zealanders compared with what we actually eat, although the last survey carried out by Otago University was 10 years ago and a new study is desperately needed for greater relevance to today’s eating patterns. Similar limitations apply to global surveys, although SNI mixes and matches databases to improve the accuracy of its model. The aim is to identify how to feed the global population with the right level of nutrients which will provide the ideal diet at least cost.

The DELTA model can also compare different diets, for example average, flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan, which means it can identify the alternative sources of nutrients where one or other of the diets omits certain essential elements. McNab says while people who give something up like meat may claim to feel much better having eliminated it from their diet, they must ensure they compensate for the nutrients no longer available to them. The growing desire of consumers to make dietary decisions in order to reduce their impact on global warming and greenhouse gas emissions must be considered in the context of the nutritional effect on the individual, as well as the total global warming impact of which diet only makes up a part.

DELTA does not calculate the additional costs of removing or adding types of food from a diet for reasons of conscience, social or environmental reasons. The impact of traded goods, transport and energy consumption make up a significant proportion of an individual’s total carbon footprint with diet estimated to make up only 25% of the total. In addition New Zealand’s energy and agricultural production produce less carbon emissions than many of our trading partners.

The Riddet Institute, hosted by Massey University, is one of 10 centres of research excellence (CoRE) working collaboratively with each other while focusing on different areas of scientific research. Contestable funding rounds are open to universities, wananga and technical institutes and are administered on behalf of the Tertiary Education Commission. The DELTA model is already used by universities in the Netherlands and Australia and the SNI plans further versions which will include estimates of the impact of food system scenarios on land use change, GHG production and water quality.

The relevance of this research to food producers may not immediately be obvious, but it puts the whole food production system in a local and global context, proving agriculture’s essential contribution to global health and nutrition.

Above all it will support farmers’ social licence to continue responsible production without feeling guilty.


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12 Comments

Who would have thought, animal protein in the diet of homo sapiens has been found to be of importance. Considering we have been eating other animals for as far back as can be ascertained, is this a surprise?          The question to my mind is how long can we supply this important commodity to everyone considering the depleting soil reserves that has taken millions of years to build.

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I wonder if the SNI work considers the bioavailability of nutrients in foods, affected by processing methods and cooking techniques. Along the same lines there's no mention in the article, of enzyme activity; which surely must be considered if we're to consider what people absorb from the food they consume.

I feel that statistics such as ' 100g of red meat produces the same amount of iron as 1.4kg of spinach' or ' the global dairy sector contributes 49% of consumed Calcium required for bone, teeth and muscle maintenance' are easy to throw about but not all that useful. In the wrong form, and without all component parts of a food or meal working in synergy, we're quite capable of taking in nutrients and excreting them out the other end...(no, I'm not a vegan!)

 

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It also ignores the huge imbalance in the consumption of dairy and red meat worldwide. They may provide 49 % of the worlds calcium overall , but the 20%  of the worlds richest ( that includes us ) probably consume 80 % of it. Likewise with meat. First world has problems like gout, calcium deficit, (excess calcium in diet leaches calcium for the bones), cholesterol  and Diabetes, third world has malnutrition.      

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I've been eating a mostly animal protein and fat based diet for the past six months. It seemed to greatly improve my digestion. The human digestive system is actually very good at breaking down meat to the molecular level rather quickly. Lost 10% of my body weight, improved mood and am now gaining muscle. I'm over sixty.

I don't think it's true for me that rice, wheat and fruit and vegetables are essential components of a balanced diet. I can certainly do without rice and wheat for example. Most fruits are way too high in sugar to eat in quantity. I have the odd mandarin or kiwi for a treat. I eat low carb vegetables but I wonder if you really need all that fibre. We are not gorillas!

Going full carnivore for a while to see how you feel and then slowly adding back some foods may help in identifying foods that disagree with you. Like wheat for instance. I'm neither a nutritionist nor a doctor but for me it was transformative and has made me feel twenty years younger.

Anyway the gist of this article is that animal protein is great for you and I wholeheartedly agree!

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Maybe it’s the low carbs that do the trick, we enjoy garden salads and protein, careful with the carbs and we  loose weight easily.

But cow or cow byproducts is no more worthwhile than chicken fish or prawn in my opinion, we don’t eat cow,, prefer lamb.

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It could even just be the lower overall calories that do the trick too. A lot of people have good results with simple portion control. I also do intermittent fasting. This is why I was careful to not be too adamant about this being universal for all people and noted that this is what worked for me.

I like all the meats but do eat a lot of steak and pork. Curious as to why lamb would be any better than grass fed beef. Higher fat content? Rump steak has a lot of fat as does cheaper beef mince. Beef seems the perfect food to me and NZ should promote both beef and lamb as health foods.

I developed a fear of salads after reading about what happened to a young man who ate a slug. Boiling vegetables for a minute or two and then stir frying in olive oil or animal fat assuages my fears.

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We barbecue our protein and aged ribeye is a stronger taste than aged backstraps, that may be a factor with salads.

Also portion size of a blackstrap is ideal for two people and it is ready quickly, maybe 5 minutes, convenience is a factor.

I have used fasting days as well, a good way to dump weight but I find not necessary once I’m at median weight for height.

Alternatively jumbo prawns are quick and easy too.

One of the factors for us in choice of protein is minimising food waste, we compost and only occasionally put out general waste so bone or fat  leftovers  are a liability.

 

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Speaking of slugs, we use vinegar or  lemon dressings and not many bugs could survive them so I guess it’s a protection, and the stomach is ph 2 from memory, very acidic.

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Here is a lesson I learnt on my mother's knee,

Always rinse lettuce leaves and they shall be slug-free.

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We found a slug in a salad in a French restaurant once, I guess their mother never told them.

Of course snails are their delicacy, just joking, they were mortified.

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If you are talking about Sam Ballad , it seems to be a bit of a one off . A google search on people dying from eating slugs only brings him up . 

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Congrats on failing at google. You do realize most deaths are not reported in news media, especially those who don't die on a slow news day. Of all the deaths in NZ barely 1% make the internet. We don't even get coroners reports if they are seen as being disabled in care either. Those people don't even matter to investigate why they died with so many bruises or from medical failures. If you truly want to see causes of death in NZ you would need specialist backroom access and about 100years to trawl through the dodgy reporting and DHB data collection failures and even then as I mentioned, for some people we just don't care enough to bother even looking for cause of death.

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