I don’t know if you saw this over the weekend, but a slew of articles came out about the impending update to our government nutrition guidelines, better known as the food pyramid. In addition to the unsurprising findings that we consume too much salt and added sugar, the appointed nutrition panel’s initial report tackles the amount and type of meat in our diet for the first time — saying, in short, that for health reasons and for the good of the environment, we need to cut way back on red meat in particular, which has the highest carbon footprint of all the food we produce.
Predictably, Congress and meat processors are pissed.
Rep. Robert B. Aderholt, a Republican from Alabama who is chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the budget for the Agriculture Department, issued a formal warning in December to the panel charged with updating the food guidelines.
“Politically motivated issues such as taxes on certain foods and environmental sustainability are outside their purview, ” he told the Washington Post via spokesman.
“The Committee’s foray into the murky waters of sustainability is well beyond its scope and expertise. It’s akin to having a dermatologist provide recommendations about cardiac care,” said Barry Carpenter, CEO of the North American Meat Institute, adding that the recommendations “appear to be based on personal opinions or social agendas.”
But the panel isn’t backing down.
“Consistent evidence indicates that, in general, a dietary pattern that is 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 is associated with lesser environmental impact than is the current average U.S. diet,” the report says.
Americans are eating less meat than they have in the past, but they are still eating too much, according to the panel’s experts, and all that meat consumption is having detrimental effects on the environment. A study published last year in the journal Climatic Change reported that meat eaters contributed more to global warming than do fish eaters, vegetarians and vegans.
Beef is associated with more than twice the carbon emissions of pork, nearly three times that of turkey and almost four times that of chicken, according to the Environmental Working Group.
The World Resources Institute has estimated that poultry, pork, shrimp, fish and eggs are all much better sources of those two nutrients relative to the amount of feed and land required to produce them.
The government appoints a blue ribbon panel every five years to review our eating habits, examine areas that need greater guidance to improve public health, and recommend an updated list of Dietary Guidelines, which influence school lunches, food labeling, public policy and more. The panel’s experts said they aren’t forcing a vegan diet on the American population.
“But we are saying that people need to eat less meat,” Miriam Nelson, a professor at Tufts University and one of the committee’s members, told the Washington Post. “We need to start thinking about what’s sustainable. Other countries have already started including sustainability in their recommendations. We should be doing it, too.”
- Washington Post: Nation’s Top Nutrition Panel says the American Diet is Killing Us (2/19/2015)
- Washington Post: Think of the Earth, Not Just Your Stomach, Panel Advises (2/19/2015)