New dietary guidelines may take environmental health into account

Grazing cattle (Carl Wycoff / Flickr)
Grazing cattle (Carl Wycoff / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | January 14, 2015

Citing environmental concerns associated with livestock production, the federal government’s newest round of dietary guidelines may be broadening its scope to include sustainably-produced foods.

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, reviews current dietary guidelines every five years, concluding in a list of dietary recommendations which affect federally subsidized school lunches, food labels and the government’s Choose My Plate program, which replaced the food pyramid in 2011.

A draft recommendation at the committee’s December meeting suggested a shift in the amount of red and processed meats Americans consumed, perhaps due to the significant role livestock plays in human-induced greenhouse gas emissions: As much as 14.5% of emissions may come from livestock, with beef making up a large portion of the total. Promoting a more plant-based diet on environmental grounds could lead to reductions in agricultural emissions as well as ensure food security for future generations. More sustainable livestock production practices could also have a significant impact on the country’s water quality.

While the panel’s draft recommendations have already received backlash from livestock groups, the committee maintains there is “compatibility and overlap” between food sustainability and human health.

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