USDA to recommend eating less meat for the environment?

Every five years, the US government’s official dietary guidelines get updated with input from The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a high-level panel of scientific and medical experts on health, who submit their recommendations to the Secretaries of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The committee’s recommendations factor heavily in the USDA’s dietary guidelines and the government’s general stance on a number of food policy issues.

The most recent committee recommendations, the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, just came out today, and while the message that dietary cholesterol is not as much of a risk as previously believed has gotten a lot of media attention, there have been some other messages related to animal-based foods: 

  • Americans should increase total intake of plant-based foods and lower total intake of meat to maintain a healthy weight
  • Red meat and processed meat are detrimental to health
  • Plant-based foods are more environmentally sustainable

These recommendations have generated a lot of blow-back from the meat industry, and given that the USDA is also mandated with supporting the livestock industry—and, in fact, has strong ties to the industry—one can imagine that there will be some alterations to the language of these recommendations, if they end up in the USDA’s official dietary guidelines at all.

But regardless of what the USDA does with this expert advice, it’s nice to see these advisors speak the truth about the sustainability and public-health impacts related to meat consumption. If people in their positions can’t make rational, evidence-based recommendations that transcend cultural biases for a meat-centric diet, then there is little hope that our food system will be getting greener or healthier anytime soon.

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