Should the 2015 USDA Dietary Guidelines Include An Environmental Agenda?

As 2015 hits, it is officially time for a new edition of the USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Dietary Guidelines stand to change a good deal in 2015, as an advisory panel advising the process is pushing to include new environmental considerations.

As 2015 hits, it is officially time for a new edition of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s report Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Updated every five years, the guideline provides recommendations for better overall health, including information on food intake, exercise, and reducing the risk of chronic disease.

The Dietary Guidelines stand to change a good deal in 2015, as an advisory panel advising the process is pushing to include new environmental considerations. By bringing the topic of environmental sustainability to the discussion, the panel is pushing to drastically change the impact of the Dietary Guidelines.

The seventh and final meeting of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory was held on Dec 15, 2014, and the period for public comment submission officially closed on Dec 30, 2014. The next step will occur early this year as the Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Committee is submitted to the Secretaries of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture.

These guidelines will likely be published and put into effect by the end of this year. What impact would a change to the Dietary Guidelines in 2015 mean for peoples’ day-to-day lives?  According to the USDA website, “The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are the cornerstone of Federal nutritional policy and nutrition education activities,” the basis for the USDA’s “MyPlate” icon, and the foundation of federal eating programs including school lunches.

Mary Clare Jalonik of the Associated Press recently wrote on the issue in her article, “Healthy Eating Guidelines May Consider Environmental Impact.”  She writes, “A new focus on the environment would mean asking people to choose more fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and other plant-based foods — possibly at the expense of meat. The beef and agriculture industries are crying foul, saying an environmental agenda has no place in what has always been a practical blueprint for a healthy lifestyle.”

The panel argues that a diet focused on sustainability will ensure better access to healthy food for future generations. Jalonik notes, “As the advisory committee has discussed the idea, doctors and academics on the panel have framed sustainability in terms of conserving food resources and also what are the healthiest foods. There is "compatibility and overlap" between what's good for health and good for the environment, the panel has said.”

The beef industry in particular feels targeted by the effort. Jalonik writes, “A study by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year said raising beef for the American dinner table is more harmful to the environment than other meat industries…beef produces more heat-trapping gases per calorie, puts out more water-polluting nitrogen, takes more water for irrigation and uses more land.”

Should the 2015 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans include an environmental agenda? Are sustainable food manufacturing processes essential to preserving a healthy world for future generations? How much control should the government have over American eating habits? Comment below.

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