Tor keep the climate habitable, most scientists to accept that switching to renewable energy alone is not enough: Americans also need to change the way they eat. Environmental and public health advocates are pushing a new strategy to help achieve this: including climate breakdown in official US dietary guidelines.
Every five years, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services jointly publish a new version of the guidelines. They form the basis of the food guide for the public. My platepreviously MyPyramid, as well as many government-backed meal programs such as the National School Lunch. Historically, these guidelines have focused narrowly on human nutrition, but now some say they should be expanded to incorporate climate considerations as well.
The current 150-page edition for 2020-2025 makes no mention of the role of food in the climate crisis at all. Climate groups say this is an abdication of responsibility, as Americans feel the effects of global warming more than ever. The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, the most important climate legislation in US history, recently to address the food system.
“Climate change poses a multitude of threats to human health and nutritional security. We can’t separate these things from each other,” said Jessi Silverman, senior policy associate at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Her group and 39 others, including the Union of Concerned Scientists and the American Academy of Pediatrics, wrote in May a letter urging the government to include sustainability in the 2025-2030 dietary guidelines, which are now under development.
A sustainability component would encourage Americans to eat less meat and dairy, which have a significantly greater climate impact than nutritionally comparable plant-based foods. “It would be virtually impossible to even meet the two degrees [Celsius] limit on global temperature change without incorporating substantial reductions in beef consumption,” said Mark Rifkin, senior food and agricultural policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity, another signatory to the letter.
Current guidelines advise Americans to eat far more animal products than is sustainable, said Walter Willett, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. The main dietary chart recommends 26 ounces of protein from meat, poultry, and eggs a week, compared to just 5 ounces from plant-based foods, though there are alternative charts that show how vegetarians can get the same nutrients without meat. They also “basically still say three servings of dairy a day, which is actually really radical because our current intake is 1.6 servings a day,” he said. “Simply recommending three servings of dairy and not saying anything about the environmental consequences if people actually did it is completely irresponsible.”
Because most Americans are deficient in fiber and fruits and vegetables, not animal products, Rifkin, a registered dietitian, said the climate-focused guidance would align with what the public needs nutritionally. It would also help address other issues stemming from the meat-heavy U.S. food system, he said, including the risk of future pandemics, food safety and contamination from concentrated animal feeding operations, which disproportionately affects to communities of color.
A proposed list of questions published in April for the scientific panel reporting that the guidelines did not include sustainability. That worries advocates, but they say it’s still early days. Janet de Jesus, HHS staff lead on the guidelines, said sustainability could still be included. “We’re not saying it’s not going to be in the dietary guidelines, we’re not saying that at all,” de Jesus said. “It is a high priority for HHS leadership to address climate change.”
Countries like Germany, Brazil, Sweden and Qatar have addressed sustainability in their dietary guidelines, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. report. Canada food guide advises choosing plant-based foods more often for the environment. Germany has cut its per capita meat consumption by 12% since 2011, Vox reported last month, and its food and agriculture minister has recently prioritized a shift to a more plant-based diet.
Advocates say a change in US dietary guidelines could have a similar influence. “The guidelines are much more shocking than I think a lot of people realize,” Silverman said. Federal food aid programs have to meet the guidelines, shaping how millions of people eat. The National School Lunch and the National School Breakfast, for example, served plus that 7 billion meals a year to tens of millions of children before the Covid-19 pandemic. The guidelines also influence cafeteria foods served in government buildings, hospitals, and other institutions, and used in nutrition education programs.
The reach of National School Lunch makes it “in a unique position to affect the dietary patterns of American children and adolescents and could help address the environmental impacts of food systems,” according to a recent report. paper in Communications Earth and Environment. Meat contributes disproportionately to the impact of school meals on the climate, as well as on land and water use.
Because government programs and other large institutions serve so many meals, sustainability advocates in recent years have in focus in trying to influence their food buying decisions. California earlier this year assigned $100 million to help schools serve more plant-based meals.
This is not the first time the environment has been at issue in the nation’s dietary guidelines. In 2015, the government-appointed panel of nutrition experts that advised the 2015-2020 guidelines managed sustainability in your scientific report. “In general, a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in animal-based foods is more health-promoting and associated with less impact environmental. ”, the panel wrote.
But after protests from the meat industry Y Republican legislators, the recommendation to eat more plants was removed from the final guidelines. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal at the time, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said sustainability was out of the scope of dietary guidelines and compared the scientific committee to his granddaughter who “colors outside the lines.”
“It’s a really patronizing thing,” Bob Martin of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future said of Vilsack’s comments. “The people involved in this were highly qualified.”
The agribusiness has long story influencing dietary patterns, and will no doubt be a factor this time around as well. the meat Y dairy products industries spent $49.5 million on political contributions in 2020, Y other $15.9 million lobbying the federal government.
Food industry groups also routinely report lobbying for federal nutrition policy. The National Beef Cattlemen’s Association between 2014 and 2016 spent more than $303,000 lobbying to keep beef in the dietary guidelines. according to to federal lobbying records. Several industry groups, including the North American Meat Institute, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Turkey Federation, have already weighed in on the process for the 2025-2030 guidance. “[W]While an important issue, sustainability is outside the scope of the Dietary Guidelines,” the National Pork Producers Council wrote in a public comment in May.
Although environmental advocates face an uphill battle, much has changed since the failed 2015 effort to mainstream sustainability, said Jessi Silverman of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “I think the public pressure to have concrete policies to address climate change has grown a lot in the years since then.”
Leave a Comment