Sustainability Appears Out in Upcoming Dietary Guidelines

Oct. 6, 2015
USDA and HHS secretaries reject advisory committee's recommendations.

In a blog post dated October 6, 2015, the secretaries of USDA and Health and Human Services hinted they are rejecting an advisory committee's insertion of sustainability considerations in the impending 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

"There has been some discussion this year about whether we would include the goal of sustainability as a factor in developing dietary guidelines," they wrote. "We will remain within the scope of our mandate in the 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act, which is to provide 'nutritional and dietary information and guidelines … based on the preponderance of the scientific and medical knowledge.' … We do not believe that the 2015 DGAs are the appropriate vehicle for this important policy conversation about sustainability."

The blog post, which acknowledged the final 2015 guidelines are still being drafted, was signed by Tom Vilsack, secretary of agriculture, and Sylvia Burwell, secretary of Health and Human Services.

The announcement set off cheers from many of the more traditional corners of the food and beverage industry.

“As NAMI [the North American Meat Institute] has noted in previous comments, while sustainability is an important food issue, it was outside of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s scope and expertise and would be more appropriately addressed by a panel of sustainability experts that understands the complexity of the issue,” said NAMI Pres./CEO Barry Carpenter. “It is reassuring that Secretaries Vilsack and Burwell have taken a strong stance to keep the Dietary Guidelines focused on nutrition and health.”

NAMI also was buoyed by the mention of lean meats among "the building blocks of a healthy lifestyle." Even "limited amounts of saturated fats, added sugars and sodium" were mentioned as being OK.

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which created a set of recommendations to the government after 19 months of study and public hearings, appeared to drop meat from its recommendations. As we reported before, the advisory committee was composed entirely of academics, who were pretty heavy-handed in inserting sustainability – thereby favoring plant proteins over animal proteins – in their final report.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are supposed to be released before the end of this year, although the two federal agencies have missed that year-end deadline before.

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