There was a surprising, if welcome revelation at the Aquaculture New Zealand conference in Marlborough yesterday – apparently policy makers should leave food production out of the global race to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Dr Sudhvir Singh, a medical doctor trained in Auckland, is currently head of Policy at EAT, a global non-profit start-up company that aims to transform the world’s food systems through science and disruption.

Singh told delegates that food is the biggest culprit in most of the world’s challenges such as health, equity and environment but it is also the biggest victim, with climate change making all food production, including seafood vulnerable.

What we eat is the biggest single risk factor for disease in all countries with one in five deaths directly attributed to diet. In New Zealand, the health sector chews up 20 percent of government spending and is on an upward trajectory.

Singh’s statistics are alarming; two billion people globally lack essential nutrients, 150 million children have stunted growth from poor nutrition, 50 million children are underweight. Then there are two billion people who are obese – across all continents.

He said food can be the solution to the health problems and climate change challenges - but only if the world’s researchers and policy-makers work collaboratively.

EAT’s challenge was to devise a healthy diet that would be sufficient to feed 10 billion people and still address climate change.

The good news is seafood is in the frame.

On a purely nutritional basis, EAT claims, not surprisingly, that the world needs a major increase in the consumption of wholegrains, non-starchy vegetables, nuts and legumes and seafood, with a decrease in red meat and dairy. The research shows a healthy adult should eat only one serving of red meat a week and 700 grams, or two to four servings of seafood.

And that, apparently would save one in five premature deaths per year globally. That is 11 million people.

On the climate change front, the scientists say there needs to be no net increase globally in the emissions from agriculture. That comes with a caveat that land use should not increase either, fresh water should be preserved, nitrogen phosphate should be reduced, and biodiversity loss needs to be halted.

Globally, 25 percent of emissions come from food and land use, but the research says with food security being essential to feed the world’s population we should allow greenhouse gases from agriculture to be maintained and capped at current levels.

Singh said to feed 10 billion people and stay within healthy environmental limits, better production and waste reduction are needed but he claims just the switch in diet will help decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

According to EAT research, seafood is important, but consumption levels are too low in much of the world. With limited scope to increase wild catch the focus must be on aquaculture.

Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash’s announcement at the conference that he intends to turn the New Zealand aquaculture sector into a three billion dollar industry may come faster than even he expected.