American dietary guidelines dump environmental concerns

Environmental issues on your plate
© Margaret Badore via MyPlate

Earlier this year, a draft of the U.S. dietary guidelines proposed taking environmental concerns into account, by recommending that Americans eat less meat. The move gained much praise from environmentalists and health experts alike, but now the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is dropping that part of the recommendations.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsak and Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell said in a blog post that the environmental impact of food will not be included in the final 2015 dietary guidelines, which are expected to be released soon. “The final 2015 Guidelines are still being drafted, but because this is a matter of scope, we do not believe that the 2015 [Dietary Guidelines for America] are the appropriate vehicle for this important policy conversation about sustainability,” they write.

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines not only serve as a means of educating the public about how to eat a healthy diet, but also shape a range of government programs, such as school lunches.

Vilsak and Burwell add that the USDA invests “billions of dollars dollars each year across all 50 state in sustainable food production.”

The news nonetheless was disappointing to many. According to an analysis of 29,000 public comments submitted to the USDA regarding the draft, including sustainability considerations received strong support. In addition to recommending Americans eat less meat, the proposed guidelines also called for more consumer education about the heavy impact certain foods have on the environment. Unsurprisingly, the proposal received heavy criticism from meat industry lobbyists.

Ricardo Salvador, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food and Environment Program, told ThinkProgress that it’s likely that the USDA caved to pressure from the meat industry.

However, there is still the possibility that the USDA will recommend eating less meat for health reasons alone. According to the the World Health Organization, limiting red meat consumption and avoiding all processed meat can help reduce the risk of cancer.

Tags: Beef | Factory Farming | Health

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