The government has tasked the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a panel of federally appointed nutrition experts, with drawing up recommendations for new federal guidelines due out at the end of the year. As part of its updated recommendations, the panel has highlighted the importance of a plant-based diet. This is the first time the committee has taken sustainability into account—but advocating for Americans to eat less meat and dairy has industry lobbyists and House Republicans upset.
“When you talk about the lens of the dietary guidelines it’s just not appropriate for the advisory committee to enter that conversation when they were asked to look at nutrition and health science,” Kristina Butts, executive director of legislative affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said to The Hill.
But the panel disagrees, stating such recommendations are within its expertise.
“The scope is ours to fully define,” Barbara Millen, chairwoman of the advisory committee and a professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine said to The Hill. “Because we are encouraging Americans to eat more seafood, we felt we needed to look at the sustainability of that issue as well.”
Research has shown no single human activity has a larger impact on the planet than what we eat, and that a plant-based diet, or better yet, a vegan diet, has the lowest impact. One ton of methane, the main greenhouse gas expelled in agriculture, accounts for 23 tons of carbon dioxide. And a single dairy cow expels 75 kilograms of methane or 1.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. As global warming has become a front and center issue, so has U.S. meat consumption.
The committee wrote in its 571-page report that eating fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds—also known as eating lower on the food chain—isn't just lower in saturated fats, but has less impact on the planet. The committee endorsed three diets: a vegetarian-style, a Mediterranean-style, and a healthy U.S.-style diet. Millen said it’s a misunderstanding to say the report pushes for a meat-free or vegan diet.
According to The Hill:
On Tuesday, Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) and 70 House Republicans sent a letter to HHS and USDA urging the final dietary guidelines to be based on sound nutritional science and adhere to the charter authorized by Congress.
HHS will review the report before drafting its new dietary guidelines.
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