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26th Feb 2024

Nordic nutrition guidelines advise to eat less meat — but Sweden revolts

  • To minimise environmental impact, meat consumption should be replaced by increased consumption of plant foods, such as legumes and fish from sustainably managed stocks," the 391-page scientific report advises (Photo: Silje Katrine Robinson – norden.org)
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New Nordic nutrition guidelines published on Tuesday (20 June) recommend eating less meat for the sake of health and environment.

"To minimise environmental impact, meat consumption should be replaced by increased consumption of plant foods, such as legumes and fish from sustainably managed stocks," the 391-page scientific NRR2023 report advises.

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It is the sixth update of the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations (NNR) since 1980. And for the first time the report takes environmental and climatic considerations into account.

"We cannot, and will not, turn a blind eye to the scientific evidence of how our consumption impacts our planet," Karen Ellemann, Secretary General for the Nordic Council of Ministers, introduces the report.

She is a former Danish politician and minister representing the liberal party, Venstre, traditionally defending interests of farmers and fishermen.

But even before the new Nordic nutrition recommendations were presented to the public, Sweden's christian democrat minister of rural affairs, Peter Kullgren, came out in a strong rejection of the advice, saying his government would not follow suit.

"Sweden would rather have to move towards increasing its animal production — not least to be able to claim and restore pastures. But also ensure access to enough nutritious food in the event of a crisis", he wrote in an opinion piece published by the Swedish daily Aftonbladet (19 June).

Two hundred and thirty one experts have worked on the development of the NNR2023 and a large number of scientists contributed additionally in 59 public consultations.

Citing the Swedish Agency for Agriculture and the Royal Academy of Forestry and Agriculture, Kullberg however criticised their work for having "shortcomings in the underlying scientific considerations."

"Before this year's update of the nutritional recommendations, the mission was broadened to, in addition to reviewing nutritional needs and diet-related diseases, also take environmental and climatic considerations into account. The approach has been good, but we are now forced to state that NNR23 misses the mark", he wrote.

"Milk and beef production are also just such forms of production for which we have good natural conditions in Sweden — and then it is reasonable that this also leaves its mark on our diet", he pointed out.

The recommendations form the basis of the Nordic and Baltic state's dietary advice for schools, hospitals and elderly care. It is up to the individual governments how to implement — or ignore — the advice but the recommendations are normally widely implemented.

"These guidelines influence the nutrition labels that in turn inform consumer food choices. They also guide school meals and the food we serve in our hospitals and other care facilities. Serving the healthiest food possible to our children, and to those who are vulnerable and frail, is made easier through the hard work that has gone into the NNR", Ellemann wrote in the foreword to the report.

The high consumption of red meat is the most important dietary contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Nordic and Baltic states.

Pulses and legumes (both domestically produced and imported) have among the lowest relative climate impacts, for example in comparison to all types of meat.

However, only 7 percent of global soy production is used to produce products directly for human consumption, with most soy (77 percent) being used for animal feed — mainly for chickens and pigs, according to the report.

The recommendations will be presented publicly in Reykjavik on Tuesday (20 June) in an event that can be followed online.

EUobserver's new magazine is also all about plant-based alternatives to meat, find it around Brussels, or get in touch to find out how to obtain a copy.

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