The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) report earlier this year included these issues in its executive summary, giving them far higher profile than they ever previously have had in the nation's most august dietary guidance process. The federal government uses this DGAC report as one input into the official guidelines, which will be released later this year.
Here is the sober and sensible passage of the DGAC report that generates all the fuss:
The major findings regarding sustainable diets were that a diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet. This pattern of eating can be achieved through a variety of dietary patterns, including the Healthy U.S.-style Pattern, the Healthy Mediterranean-style Pattern, and the Healthy Vegetarian Pattern. All of these dietary patterns are aligned with lower environmental impacts and provide options that can be adopted by the U.S. population. Current evidence shows that the average U.S. diet has a larger environmental impact in terms of increased greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and energy use, compared to the above dietary patterns. This is because the current U.S. population intake of animal-based foods is higher and plant-based foods are lower, than proposed in these three dietary patterns. Of note is that no food groups need to be eliminated completely to improve sustainability outcomes over the current status.As Dan Charles reported for NPR in December, many in Congress are furious. More recently, Mike Hamm from Michigan State, who served as a consultant to the DGAC, summarized much of the controversy after the report's release.
One of the great things about the U.S. process of developing dietary guidelines is that the public comments are transparent. The DGAC report is generating thousands of comments from supporters and opponents alike.
For example, here is an excerpt from comment #1234, enraged about the inclusion of sustainability issues:
Are you crazy? This is supposed to be a free America - now you want to tell us what to eat, how to eat, how much tv to watch (what about the case of my husband who is disabled - television gives him something to do, yet you want to limit that??But, is it really so crazy to link sustainability and dietary guidance?
I believe this goes too, too far, especially where you want us to limit meat due to climate sustainability. Climate change, global warming - whatever you have been told to call it so that low-info Americans believe whatever garbage you feed them - is made up. We all know it. Even the UN admitted it is for economic reasons to get rid of a capitalistic society and become socialist which has been proven time and time again to NOT work.
Here is part of comment #3359 from Kim Stackhouse with the federal government's beef checkoff program (the semi-public producer board that promotes increased beef consumption):
Ensuring a sustainable food supply is undoubtedly one of the greatest societal challenges we face. By 2050, we will need to produce 70 percent more food than we do today in order to feed the growing population.Setting aside the selective summary of the actual environmental evidence, these public comments are striking. Even the beef checkoff program acknowledges the value of "looking holistically at food production practices."
Ensuring a sustainable food supply requires balancing efficient agricultural production with environmental, social and economic impacts. Only by looking holistically at food production practices can our food systems meet demand and minimize unintended consequences. The beef industry recognizes the important role it plays to produce food in a more sustainable manner and has committed to a journey toward more sustainable beef.
There is no doubt that Americans will be discussing environmental sustainability and dietary guidance together -- jointly -- for decades to come. In writing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the federal health and agriculture departments may help clarify the evidence, or they may ignore the issue that everybody is thinking about. If they stick their heads in the sand, the public will just turn elsewhere for dietary guidance information that rightly considers the future of the environment.