Aug 19, 2019 | Updated: 03:06 PM EDT

Environment May Become Part of New Dietary Guidelines

Jan 06, 2015 03:21 PM EST

Beef Cattle
(Photo : udi Steinwell [CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Every five years, the government issues updated dietary guidelines to encourage Americans to eat healthier.  These guidelines help people know what they should and should not eat to live a healthy lifestyle.  But this year's version, however, may look a little different, as officials are considering the environmental impact of what we eat as well.

The new focus would mean asking people to choose more fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and other plant-based foods at the possible expense of meat. But the beef and agriculture industries are crying foul, saying the environmental agenda has no place in what has long been considered a practical way of eating for a healthy lifestyle. 

An advisory committee has taken up a draft of the guidelines with doctors and other academics on the panel, weighing in on the sustainability in terms of conserving food resources and also on what are the healthy foods.  According to the panel, there is "compatibility and overlap" between what's good for a person's health and what is good for the environment.

The meat industry has fought for years to ensure that dietary guidelines do not call for eating less meat.  Currently the guidelines recommend eating lean meats instead of reducing meat consumption altogether.  However, a draft discussed by the panel says a healthy dietary plan includes fewer "red and processed meats" than are currently consumed.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the American Meat Institute both issued comments calling the committee biased, and say that comments made by the committee concerning meat were "stunning" and "arbitrary."

Many members of Congress have also let their objections be known.  In part of the massive spending bill enacted last month it was noted about the committee's interest in including the environment as part of the nutrition guide and directed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack "to only include nutrition and dietary information, not extraneous factors" in final guidelines.

Environmentalists have long been pushing the government to include the environment as part of their considerations for a healthy eating plan. 

"We need to make sure our diets are in alignment with our natural resources and the need to reduce climate change," says Kari Hamerschlag of the advocacy group Friends of the Earth.

Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest says the idea of broader guidelines isn't unprecedented. They have already been shaped to address physical activity and food safety, he says.

"You don't want to recommend a diet that is going to poison the planet."

In a recent study by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, beef was found to be more harmful to the environment than other meat industries, including pork and chicken. According to the study, when compared with other popular animal proteins, beef produces more heat-trapping gases per calorie, puts out more water-polluting nitrogen, takes more water for irrigation and uses more land.

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