New Dietary Guidelines Dismiss Leading Science and Public Concern for the Environment

-- Dietary Guidelines Endanger Long-Term Food Security

-- Guidelines Alarmingly Exclude Link Between Food and the Environment

Jan 08, 2016, 07:00 ET from My Plate, My Planet

WASHINGTON, Jan. 8, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In a shocking abrogation of responsibility for the public good, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) released this week fail to highlight the linkage between food, health and the environment, part of the recommendations of the very panel of scientists the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) enlisted to provide scientific support for the 2015-2020 edition of the DGAs.

Despite the intransigence of the USDA and HHS, and the seeming capitulation to the meat and dairy lobbies, the drafting of the DGAs led to unprecedented civic engagement. This includes My Plate, My Planet, a campaign representing nearly 200 leading environmental and health organizations and individuals in support of the government's Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), an expert group of leading scientists.

Underscoring the link between human heath and the environment, the DGAC's scientific recommendations concluded that: "Current evidence shows that the average U.S. diet has a larger environmental impact in terms of increased greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and energy use…" The DGAC also specified that, "linking health, dietary guidance, and the environment will promote human health and the sustainability of natural resources and ensure current and long-term food security."

"The USDA and HHS caved to political pressure and blew the opportunity to make that connection clear in the new dietary guidelines, which is dangerously irresponsible," said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the 2.4 million-member Sierra Club, which signed on to the My Plate, My Planet campaign. "How we farm and what we eat directly affects food security, our air and water quality, and our climate future -- and that knowledge should inform not only our personal choices but also our public policies."

The DGAC scientists also concluded that "a diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet..." 

"We have long known that America's love affair with meat has supersized impacts," said Erik Olson, Senior Strategic Director for Food & Health at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), also part of the My Plate, My Planet campaign. "Not only on our health, but on the environment—from intensive use of water to massive greenhouse gas pollution. Eating less red meat is good for you and good for the planet. These sensible changes mean healthier school lunches for our children, better nutritional advice for all, and progress in the fight against climate change."

In March 2015, in support of the scientific recommendations of the DGAC, My Plate, My Planet launched full-page advertisements in the New York Times, Washington Post and online on Politico. The campaign was established to provide a unified voice for leading environmental groups and individuals promoting the importance of linking human health and environmental sustainability in America's official dietary policy. Working closely with other organizations, My Plate, My Planet helped achieve the following:

  • Over 29,000 public comments were registered—a 14-fold increase from 2010 levels, described as 'unprecedented' by HHS staff—with 75% favoring less meat, more plants and sustainability.
  • A letter of support was sent to Secretaries Vilsack and Burwell by more than 700 health professionals, including Yale University's Dr. David Katz and Harvard University's Dr. Walter Willett.
  • A resolution from the US Conference of Mayors, representing nearly 300 U.S. mayors and urging the full integration of the DGAC's recommendations into the final guidelines.

Guidelines' Supposed Legal Mandate
Additionally, the USDA and HHS secretaries emphasized in a statement last fall that sustainability fell outside the guideline's legal mandate. Yet a legal review supported by My Plate, My Planet, and a recent paper in Science Magazine, demonstrated that the mandate includes issues of environmental sustainability as on par with that of physical activity, which has been a part of dietary guidelines for over a decade—and remain in the new guidelines.

The DGAC offered an historic opportunity to communicate that healthy diets and healthy environmental foundations of our food supply go hand in hand but failed to do so. David L. Katz, MD, Director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center and also part of My Plate, My Planet says, "I could comment on the shamefulness of omitting the sustainability of our dietary choices from dietary guidance from the perspective of medicine, or public health, or even as a citizen of the world.  But I find myself compelled to speak as a father. If we ignore sustainability, it's as if we are saying we don't care whether what is good to eat and drink is still here as a choice for our children and grandchildren.  What a deplorable, unconscionable position that is to take."

My Plate, My Planet supports the scientific recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee in promoting both human health and environmental sustainability in America's official dietary policy.

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SOURCE My Plate, My Planet