Friends of the Earth applauds sustainability focus in 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines
Urges emphasis on the benefits of less and better meat and dairy
WASHINGTON, D.C. – For the first time, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is charged with integrating environmental concerns into its recommendations on what Americans should be eating. Friends of the Earth submitted comments last week urging the Advisory Committee to emphasize the health, environmental and economic benefits of less meat and dairy on America’s plates and restaurant menus.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services’ 2015 Dietary Advisory Committee will deliberate on these issues at their fifth public meeting to be held September 16-17; the last public meeting before the release of final draft guidelines in early 2015.
“All proteins are not created equal when it comes to environmental and health impacts,” said Kari Hamerschlag, Senior program manager at Friends of the Earth. “We applaud this insightful move by the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services to include sustainability criteria in its Dietary Guidelines. We also urge the committee to emphasize the many benefits of eating less factory-farmed meat, more plants and humane, sustainable proteins.”
High levels of meat consumption in the typical American diet has lead to soaring rates of diet-related illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, resulting in higher healthcare costs. Moreover, conventional meat and dairy carries a large environmental footprint. Industrial production of meat and dairy is energy-intensive, requiring high use of pesticides, fertilizers and fuel. Beef in particular has an outsized impact. Compared to chicken, a hamburger uses almost 70 percent of the land, over 20 times the water, and generates 10 times the greenhouse gas emissions per unit of protein.
Plant-based proteins require far fewer resources, per unit of protein, preserving land, water and energy at a time when conservation is crucial to the nation’s prosperity. Lentils, for example, use 65 percent less water than beef and emit 30 times less greenhouse gasses. A strong body of research demonstrates significant health benefits of plant-based diets, including lower body weight, reduced diabetes risk and longer life spans.
The Committee’s consideration of sustainability directly supports a growing consumer preference for better quality meat and dairy in American grocery stores, restaurants and food service. Pasture raised and organically produced meat and dairy products offer health and ecological benefits to shoppers who prefer protein from animals raised without the use of antibiotics, hormones, synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Many studies have shown that these production methods deliver cleaner water, healthier soils, greater biodiversity and pollinator habitat, and fewer toxins when compared to industrial production.
“The science is clear that a diet with less meat — especially red meat — and more plant and sustainable animal protein is better for our health and the health of the planet,” continued Hamerschlag. “By incorporating sustainability concerns into the Dietary Guidelines, the USDA and HHS can help to conserve our natural resources while greatly improving America’s health.”
Note to editors: Friends of the Earth’s Good Food, Healthy Planet campaign aims to move individuals, markets and policy towards a food system that is better for people, animals and the Earth. Our full comments and more information can be found here.