New Dietary Guidelines Will Not Include Sustainability Goal
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And now eating well with food that keeps you healthy is one thing. And then there is choosing food that's healthy for the planet. A panel of nutrition experts tasked with advising the government on how to update its dietary guidelines concluded that environmental impacts should be a consideration in our diets. Though, as NPR's Allison Aubrey reports, it now appears this controversial provision will not be included in the new guidelines.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Every five years, the federal government updates its official nutrition advice, aimed at helping Americans eat better. And this time around, its advisory panel added something new to the mix. They concluded that a diet higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal products may not only be better for our health but is also associated with less environmental impact. For instance, consider water.
KATHLEEN MERRIGAN: Agriculture consumes about 70 percent of consumptive water use.
AUBREY: That's Kathleen Merrigan, the executive director of the Sustainability Institute at George Washington University. She was not on the committee, but she's just weighed in with an editorial published in Science magazine. She says much of the debate focuses on meat production because it uses lots of water and land to grow grain to feed livestock. It also produces methane emissions.
MERRIGAN: There are a lot of complex issues around livestock production that suggest, quite strongly, that we need to reduce meat consumption for sustainability reasons.
AUBREY: Now, the meat industry has been lobbying against the inclusion of a sustainability goal in the dietary guidelines. Here's the North American Meat Institute's Janet Riley.
JANET RILEY: In our view, this is clearly out of scope.
AUBREY: Riley says meat has been unfairly targeted.
RILEY: If you compare 10 pounds of apples and 10 pounds of meat, the meat surely has the larger carbon footprint, but it also delivers more nutrition. It will nourish more people longer.
AUBREY: At least in terms of calories and protein. Riley says a more thorough evaluation is needed.
RILEY: Going forward, if we're going to talk about sustainability, we just need to have a more complete picture.
AUBREY: On this point, folks on both sides can agree. GW's Kathleen Merrigan says we should consider the ecological footprints of all foods, even, for example, heart-healthy almonds.
MERRIGAN: A single almond takes about 2.8 liters of water to produce. So when you look at it in the sustainability perspective, that makes you stop cold and say mhmm (ph).
AUBREY: Given the drought in California, Merrigan says the question becomes should we limit consumption and find alternatives that are easier on the planet? Now, sustainability advocates had hoped that this issue would be discussed today when the two cabinet secretaries responsible for issuing the guidelines are scheduled to testify before a congressional committee.
But late yesterday, Tom Vilsack of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Sylvia Burwell, secretary of Health and Human Services, issued a joint statement saying that sustainability is an important policy conversation, but they do not believe it falls within the scope of dietary guidelines. The final guidelines are still being drafted and are expected by later this year. Allison Aubrey, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.