When the government issues dietary guidelines, whether it's the simple MyPlate icon or specific guidelines on how much protein you should eat, it doesn’t take the environmental impact of raising or growing food into account.
But the environmental impact of growing or raising food is something to consider when you choose what to eat. Meat is not an environmentally sustainable food to raise, particularly in the amount that Americans consume. It’s more sustainable to consume mostly plant-based foods. But the government’s nutrition guidelines don’t currently reflect that information because they are intended to be nutrition, not sustainability, guidelines.
There will be new recommendations made this year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and a panel that’s been advising the government agency has raised sustainability as an issue too. The Washington Post reports that when the new dietary guidelines come out a year from now, they could include the recommendation to eat less meat, particularly beef.
An early draft of the guidelines suggests sustainable diets will help ensure there will be food for future generations and eating fewer animal products is “more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact than is the current average U.S. diet.”
It seems there is an association between foods that are healthier and foods that are sustainable, or what the early version of the guidelines calls “compatibility and overlap.”
Not everyone is happy about this, of course. Beef producers are not pleased and will not sit by quietly and allow this to happen. Remember the hissy fit the group had when a USDA interoffice memo encouraged Meatless Monday in the office? The USDA’s press team had to issue a tweet saying it did not endorse Meatless Mondays. It was apparent the beef industry had some influence over the USDA then, and it’s hard to imagine that it doesn’t now.
Congress also told Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that when the final guidelines are issued, they should contain only “nutrition and dietary information, not extraneous factors” after it found out environmental issues were being discussed in conjunction with the guidelines.
It’s possible that by the time the guidelines are released, there will be no mention of the environmental sustainability of certain foods or of a suggestion to cut back on meat or animal products. The question is, should there be?
Related on MNN:
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- Are there any real environmental reasons to not eat meat?
- Vegetarian types: Understanding plant-based diets