In February 2015, the country’s foremost nutrition advisory panel submitted the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) to the Secretaries of the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA). In it the committee recommended that Americans be kinder to the environment by eating more plant-based foods and fewer animal-based foods, describing it as an essential element of food security:
“An important reason for addressing sustainable diets, a new area for the DGAC, is to have alignment and consistency in dietary guidance that promotes both health and sustainability. This also recognizes the significant impact of food and beverages on environmental outcomes, from farm to plate to waste disposal, and, therefore, the need for dietary guidance to include the wider issue of sustainability. Addressing this complex challenge is essential to ensure a healthy food supply will be available for future generations.”
“We’re not saying that people need to become vegans,” said Miriam Nelson, a professor at Tufts University and one of the committee’s members. “But we are saying that people need to eat less meat….If we’re thinking about the foods that are culturally appropriate, we need to start thinking about what’s sustainable…Other countries have already started doing this—including sustainability in their recommendations. We should be doing it too.”
Seems reasonable. But not to the meat industry who saw red and stepped up the lobbying, so that by the time the recommendations were finalized in October 2015 the panel took out the sustainability language. The committee faced pressure not because what they said was not true, but because they weren’t the ones who should be saying it!
Think about this: A panel of nationally recognized experts in the field of nutrition, medicine, and public health looked at our present way of producing food for our citizens and saw that meat is not good for our current and future health or the environment, but were silenced by the industry that convinced our government agencies that the panel was “not qualified” to speak about sustainability. I find this very chilling. But to put it in better words, consider the response of Dr. Walter Willett, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and Chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who issued an immediate response stating:
Sadly, Secretaries Vilsack [USDA] and Burwell [HHS] have invoked censorship on a grand scale, again demonstrating the power of the meat industry to distort national policies and priorities. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee wisely considered the environmental impacts of food production because they were asked to make recommendations that would support both health and food security. Neither health nor food security are possible without a sustainable food supply. Because climate change is accelerating and is already having a multitude of adverse effects, and the footprint of our current food system is massive, we urgently need to create a national food supply that is both healthy and sustainable. For the sake of future generations, we cannot ignore this.
If food security and sustainability “doesn’t belong” in our nation’s dietary guidelines, where does it belong? Who will speak to our future food concerns?
I realize this comic from Non Sequitur in November 2015 is a little “in your face”, but to me it really hit home the fact that trying to promote a plant based diet is up against the powerful pull of the status quo.