Meat, Agriculture Groups Challenge Sustainability Goals in Nutrition Proposal

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, for the first time, considered the impact of the American diet on the environment. Several meat and farming groups say the group overstepped its bounds.

When considering the makeup of your diet, how much emphasis should you place on the environmental impact of the foods you eat? According to a report released last week [PDF] by the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, Americans ought to at least consider sustainability and adjust their diets accordingly.

That would mean eating less beef and pork products—a suggestion that did not sit well with a number of industry associations.

If our government believes Americans should factor sustainability into their choices, guidance should come from a panel of sustainability experts that understands the complexity of the issue.

It was the first time that the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee—which every five years issues recommendations for updating the federal government’s guidelines on healthy eating—included recommendations that expanded beyond what a healthy diet looks like.

Citing more than a dozen studies on what the committee called a sustainable diet, DGAC wrote that promoting more environmentally friendly diets “will conserve resources for present and future generations, ensuring that the U.S. population has access to a diet that is healthy as well as sustainable and secure in the future.”

One such study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States found that the livestock industry is responsible for an estimated 15 percent of total global carbon emissions. And on a per-kilogram-of-consumption basis, lamb and beef production has a much larger carbon footprint than any other type of food, according to the Environmental Working Group.


Source: Environmental Working Group via the Washington Post

Beef and poultry groups called the recommendations misleading.

“We are disappointed the Advisory Committee would go outside the purview and expertise of nutrition/health research to bring in topics such as sustainability,” Dr. Richard Thorpe, a Texas medical doctor and cattle producer, said in a statement for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

North American Meat Institute President and CEO Barry Carpenter said DGAC failed to take into account more recent research on food sustainability and suggested that a different set of experts should focus on those issues.

“If our government believes Americans should factor sustainability into their choices, guidance should come from a panel of sustainability experts that understands the complexity of the issue and address all segments [including] transportation, construction, energy management, and all forms of agriculture,” he said in a statement. “Total sustainability analyses were not considered by the Advisory Committee, whose recommendations appear to be based on personal opinions or social agendas.”

And while it credited DGAC for its observations on the need for a balanced diet, the American Farm Bureau Federation said it was troubled by the committee’s decision to cite “alarmist and unsubstantiated assertions” about sustainability practices in agriculture.

“We suspect the report’s unrealistically pessimistic view of sustainability colors its views regarding meat in the American diet,” AFBF President Bob Stallman said in a statement. “American farmers and ranchers pay close attention to their actions because that’s good for the environment and their own welfare, too. We stand ready to help the administration make sure the world’s most qualified experts are present when decisions affecting the food supply are made.”

USDA and HHS are accepting public comments on the DGAC report until April 8.

Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!