Portugal’s healthy Mediterranean Diet is “one of the worst for the planet”

In a week when the World Health Organisation has given meat eaters and producers a serious case of indigestion, a new report claims Portugal is the Mediterranean country whose diet does most harm to the planet.

As Público points out, “ironically, this has all to do with the elevated consumption of fish” – a food that is meant to be healthy.

The bombshell comes from Global Footprint Network, an organisation responsible for calculating the “ecological footprint” required to sustain a country – in other words, the area of land needed to provide food, clothing, fuel, etc., for a given population.

Portugal’s “ecological footprint” comes in at a whopping 4.5 hectares (that is, over 11 acres) per person.

It is over 3 hectares more than is practically available, and ranks Portugal as the fourth worst Mediterranean country on the scale, after France, Slovenia and Italy.

Considering it comes days after the WHO warned against the carcinogenic properties of red and processed meat, it could be argued that it leaves people wondering, “what on Earth is safe to eat?” Either we do ourselves harm, or we harm the planet.

But Global Footprint Network director Alessandro Galli has been quick to put it all into perspective.

First of all, Portugal could eat less fish – the country consumes at least 40% more fish per capita than UN recommendations (3500 kilocalories per day as opposed to the suggested 2500).

Secondly, people opt for the fish that require “most resources to develop” – namely salt-cod and tuna.

Tuna require huge amounts of sardines in order to survive, and these too are in dwindling supply.

If habits veered towards “fish further down the food chain” like mackerel and herring, Portugal’s ecological footprint could slowly be improved, Galli explained.
“My argument is that the Mediterranean Diet is good for the environment, but we have moved ourselves a little from it.”

Meantime, the furore unleashed by the WHO report on red and processed meat has ignited the meat producing sector here, which stresses “there are no reasons for alarm”.

Concentrating on the small-print of the WHO findings, secretary of state for Food Nuno Vieira e Brito stressed meat eating was not dangerous if done in moderation. Consumption is fine, in other words, as long as it remains below 50 grams a day, adds Diário de Notícias – prompting the thought that minute sets of scales for Christmas presents this year might well be a wizard idea.

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