According to an editorial in the journal BMJ Worldwide Health, a global diet that more and more includes ultra-processed foods is reducing the diversity of plant species that humans can eat. This is bad for both humans and the planet.
Experts say that a more unhealthy diet is not only bad for people’s health, but it is also bad for the environment.
Food substances, mostly commodity ingredients, and “cosmetic” additives (notably flavors, colors, and emulsifiers) are assembled through a series of industrial processes to produce ultra-processed foods such as sweetened or salty snacks, soft drinks, instant noodles, reconstituted meat products, pre-prepared pizza and pasta dishes, biscuits, and confectionery.
These items constitute the foundation of a “globalized diet,” and they are increasingly dominating the global food supply, with sales and consumption increasing in practically every region and country. Their consumption is currently increasing at the fastest rates in upper-middle-income and lower-middle-income countries.
As a result, global eating habits are becoming more processed and less diverse, which has an effect on agrobiodiversity, which is the diversity and variability of animals, plants, and microbes used for food or agriculture.
After examining the matter, nutrition experts from Brazil, the United States, and Australia wrote a commentary.
While they said that many people knew that ultra-processed foods had bad effects on human health, they didn’t know that they had bad effects on global health, and ultra-processed foods were not on international development plans.
They cautioned that global agrobiodiversity was dwindling, particularly the genetic diversity of human-eating plants.
There are approximately 7,000 edible plant species used for human consumption, but only approximately 200 species produced significant amounts of food in 2014, and only nine crops accounted for more than 66 percent of total crop production by weight.
Only 15 agricultural plants provide up to 90% of humanity’s energy, and more than four billion people rely on only three of them: rice, wheat, and maize.
A lack of biological diversity in food systems was causing problems for biospheric processes and ecosystems, which were important for reliable and sustainable food production, as well as cutting down on diet diversity and making it more difficult to have healthy, robust, and sustainable food systems.
They cited a survey of 7,020 ultra-processed goods marketed in major Brazilian grocery chains, which indicated that their five main constituents were sugar cane (52.4%), milk (29.2%), wheat (27.7%), corn (10.7%), and soy (10.7%). 8.3 percent
People’s diets become less diverse as a result, with ultra-processed meals taking the place of the variety of whole foods needed for a balanced and healthy diet.
Because ultra-processed foods made more use of ingredients taken from a small number of high-yielding plant species (such as maize, wheat, soy, and oil seed crops), many of the animal-sourced ingredients in many ultra-processed foods came from confined animals fed the same crops.
Another source of worry was the use of vast amounts of land, water, energy, herbicides, and fertilizers in the manufacture of ultra-processed foods, which resulted in environmental damage from greenhouse gas emissions and the accumulation of packaging waste.
The scientists came to the following conclusion: “The fast assimilation of ultra-processed foods into human diets will continue to put a strain on the variety of plant species available for human consumption.
Future global food systems forums, biodiversity conventions, and climate change summits must emphasize the destruction of agrobiodiversity caused by ultra-processed foods and agree on policies and initiatives to mitigate and reverse this calamity.
“Policymakers at all levels, researchers, professional and civil society groups, and citizen action groups” must be a part of this process.