New Nordic research showing how food that’s good for human health is also best for the climate grabbed international attention and praise on Tuesday, but not from some Norwegian government leaders. Finance Minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum made it clear that he won’t be following the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations, which warn against consumption of meat and alcohol.
The new recommendations were released by a committee of experts tied to the Nordic Council, which promotes cooperation among the five Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The committee was led by Professor Rune Blomhoff of the University of Oslo, who claimed that their report “provides a scientific basis that demonstrates that a healthy diet is usually also sustainable.”
The new report was being praised by the UN’s World Health Organisation (WHO) for presenting “a powerful link between healthy people and a healthy planet.” WHO’s director general noted that it’s also “in line with current scientific literature” that calls for a shift to plant-based diets.
The new Nordic recommendations advise against consuming more than 350 grams of red meat per week and claim there is “no safe limit” for alcohol comsumption. “Everyone should avoid drinking alcohol,” according to the recommendations, while boosting consumption of fish, whole grains, potatoes, vegetables, nuts, fruit and berries.
That’s also best for the climate and environment, said Blomhoff, noting that “several great synergies can be forged between health and the environment.” The committee he led also advises “minimal intake” of processed meat and processed foods with high levels of fat, salt and sugar.
It’s the warnings against consumption of red meat and limited consumption of white meat that were summarily rejected by both Finance Minister Vedum and Norway’s Agriculture Minister Sandra Borch. They represent the farmer-friendly Center Party, which has long been skeptical of most climate initiatives. Both are big supporters of Norway’s meat and dairy industries, along with oil and gas.
“If I could only eat vegetables and drink water, life wouldn’t be any good,” Vedum told news bureau NTB. He claimed he has no intention of either cutting down the amounts of meat he eats or beer he drinks.
Both Vedum and Borch are known as meat enthusiasts, with Borch recently claiming that “dinner without meat wouldn’t be dinner.” Vedum responded negatively to the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations while holding a press conference on Tuesday before the summer holidays begin.
“It’s important to enjoy life, the goal is to be happy,” said Vedum, who revealed earlier this year that he’s been battling multiple sclerosis for the past two years. “I think that enjoying a beer with friends adds to the joy of life.” He also told NTB that he loves to grill meat outdoors: “Taking in the aroma, realizing it’s summertime, opening a beer, you can’t have it better.”
Neither Vedum nor Borch will advise Norwegians to follow the new recommendations, with Vedum saying he won’t “moralize over folks’ eating habits.” He added that politicians shouldn’t decide what people eat, and that people “can make their own choices.”
Vedum’s and Borch’s farming constituency also reacted negatively to the health and climate recommendations from the more than 400 researchers who’ve worked over the past five years to update and expand the Nordic nutrition advice. Hans Robert Morønning, who raises cattle in Våler in southeastern Norway, fears it will hurt his business.
Meat production, already heavily subsidized in Norway, stands for around a third of his farm’s revenues, Morønning told state broadcaster NRK. He doesn’t like the thought of being urged or ordered to cut meat production, telling NRK that it “won’t be wise for the state to ask farmers to reduce production before consumption has declined.” Some new numbers, however, indicate that it already has, and farmers worry about having to restructure. Others point to Norway’s need to maintain as much self-sufficiency as possible in food production.
“We should eat what’s good for us, and base that on what red meat can contribute, such as vitamins, iron and B12 for example,” Elisabeth Gjems, leader of the farmers’ organization Norges Bondelag, told NRK. Current state recommendations call for limiting consumption of red meat and processed meat to around 500 grams per week. That could also cut emissions from meat production by as much as 4.5 million tons, according to the state environmental authority, Miljødirektoratet but farmers remain skeptical to most such climate measures, claiming they’ll be too expensive.