How the US government’s dietary guidelines are ignoring the climate crisis | Environment

Tor keeping the climate habitable, most scientists to agree It’s not enough to just switch to renewable energy—Americans need to change the way they eat, too. Environmental and public health advocates are coming up with a new strategy to help get there: including what goes into the billions of meals the country eats every year, including climate change in the official U.S. dietary guidelines.

Every five years, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services jointly publish a new version of the information. instructions. They form the basis of a public-facing food guide MyPlateearlier My Pyramid, as well as many government-sponsored meal programs such as National School Lunch. Historically, these guidelines have focused narrowly on human nutrition, but some now say they should be expanded to include climate considerations.

The current 150-page publication for 2020-2025 does not mention the role of food in the climate crisis at all. Climate groups say this is an abdication of responsibility, with Americans feeling the effects of a warming planet more than ever. The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, the most significant climate legislation in US history, does very little address the food system.

“Climate change poses numerous threats to human health and food security. We can’t separate them from each other,” said Jessi Silverman, senior policy fellow at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. His group and 39 others, including the Association of Concerned Scientists and the American Academy of Pediatrics, in May letter calls on the government to include sustainability in the 2025-2030 dietary guidelines currently under development.

The sustainability component would encourage Americans to eat less meat and dairy has a significantly higher impact on climate than nutritionally comparable plant-based foods. “It would be virtually impossible to meet even two degrees [Celsius] limit global temperature change without significantly reducing beef consumption,” said Mark Rifkin, senior food and agricultural policy fellow at the Center for Biological Diversity, another signatory to the letter.

Chart showing USDA and Health and Human Services dietary guidelines compared to climate experts’ recommendations. When it comes to protein, experts recommend replacing animal-based proteins with plant-based proteins. As well as replacing a glass of milk with a glass of water.

Current guidelines recommend Americans eat more animal products than is sustainable, says Walter Willett, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. The original diet chart recommends 26 ounces of protein per week from meat, poultry, and eggs, compared to just 5 ounces from plant-based foods, although there are alternative charts that show how vegetarians can get the same nutrients without meat. They also “still basically say three servings of milk a day, which is really radical because our current consumption is 1.6 servings a day,” he said. “It’s completely irresponsible to just recommend three servings of milk and say nothing about the environmental consequences if people actually do it.”

Because most Americans are deficient in fiber and fruits and vegetables, not animal products, dietitian Rifkin said climate-based guidance will align with the population’s nutritional needs. It would also help address other problems stemming from the U.S. meat-rich food system, he said, including the risk of future pandemics, food insecurity and contamination from concentrated animal feeding operations that disproportionately affect communities of color.

A list of proposed questions released in April for the scientific panel recommending the guidelines did not include sustainability. That worries advocates, but they say it’s too early. Janet de Jesus, the HHS staffer who led the guidelines, said sustainability could still be included. “We’re not saying it won’t be in the dietary guidelines — we’re not saying it at all,” de Jesus said. “Climate change is a high priority for HHS leadership.”

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, countries including Germany, Brazil, Sweden and Qatar have focused on sustainability in their nutrition guidelines. report. of Canada Food guide recommends choosing plant-based foods more often for the sake of the environment. Germany has reduced its per capita meat consumption by 12% since 2011, Vox informed Last month, and its food and agriculture minister recently favored a more plant-based diet.

Advocates say a change to US dietary guidelines could have a similar effect. “Apps are more effective than a lot of people realize,” Silverman said. Federal food assistance programs must comply with regulations that shape how millions of people eat. For example, National School Lunch and National School Breakfast were served more from 7 billion meals a year for tens of millions of children before the Covid-19 pandemic. Instructions too influence used in cafeteria meals and nutrition education programs served in government buildings, hospitals, and other institutions.

National School Lunch coverage calls it “uniquely positioned to influence the eating patterns of America’s children and teens and help address the environmental impacts of food systems.” paper Communication Location and Environment. Meat contributes disproportionately to the impact of school meals on climate as well as land and water use.

As government programs and other large institutions provide many meals, there have been sustainability advocates in recent years is in focus trying to influence their food purchasing decisions. California earlier this year separated $100 million to provide more plant-based meals to schools.

This is not the first time the country’s dietary guidelines have been concerned with the environment. In 2015, a group of government-appointed nutrition experts recommended guidelines for 2015-2020 addressed sustainability in scientific reporting. “In general, a dietary pattern higher in plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds and lower in animal-based foods is more health-promoting and has a lower environmental impact,” the panel wrote. .

But after protesting meat industry and republic legislators, the recommendation to eat more plants was removed from the latest guidelines. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal at the time, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said that sustainability is not about dietary regulations and mandates. comparison “colors outside the lines” to the scientific committee.

“It’s really humiliating,” said Bob Martin of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, regarding Vilsack’s comments. “The people involved in this case were highly qualified people.”

Agribusiness has one long history affects dietary patterns and will undoubtedly be a factor this time as well. The meat and milk industrial areas spent $49.5 million on political contributions in 2020, and else $15.9 million lobbying the federal government.

Food industry groups also regularly report lobbying on federal nutrition policy. Between 2014 and 2016, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association spent more than $303,000 lobbying to keep beef within the dietary guidelines. according to to federal lobbying records. Several industry groups, including the North American Meat Institute, the International Dairy Association and the National Turkey Federation, have already weighed in on the process for the 2025-2030 guidance. “[W]While an important topic, sustainability is beyond the scope of the Dietary Guidelines,” the National Pork Producers Council wrote in a public comment in May.

While environmental advocates face an uphill battle, much has changed since a failed attempt to codify sustainability in 2015, said Jessi Silverman of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “I think the public pressure to have a concrete policy on climate change has grown a lot over the years since then.”

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