A group of leading experts on nutrition, appointed by the U.S. government to create an updated version of the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, cannot include data about the environmental impacts of specific foods, says Congress.
This would have been the first time since the guidelines were released in 1980 that environmental issues were considered a factor in the dietary recommendations.
Members of both the House and Senate added a list of “congressional directives” to a recently approved spending bill, stating that there is concern that the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee "is showing an interest in incorporating agriculture production practices and environmental factors."
According to NPR, the recommendations “directs the Obama administration to ignore such factors in the next revision of the guidelines, which is due out next year.”
Dietary choices do play a significant role in the release of greenhouse gases. Recent data revealed that meat and dairy production contributes about 15 percent of greenhouse gases—the single largest contributor in the U.S. and many other developed nations. “If Americans, who eat a lot of meat, ate a little less of it, there would be a little less pressure on the world's remaining forests,” reports NPR.
Food production uses about half of all land where vegetation can grow, explains NPR, with most of it being chemical intensive farming that may be doing more long-term damage than good. "That doesn't mean that farmers are bad. It means that eating has a big impact on the environment," Timothy Searchinger, a researcher with Princeton University and the World Resources Institute told NPR.
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But pushback from organizations like the American Meat Institute suggesting that nutritionists aren’t qualified to advise on environmental issues, threatens the future of the guidelines. “The new directive from Congress may shut down the fledgling effort completely,” reports NPR.
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