Health, environment and animal welfare groups applaud U.S. Dietary Guidelines new sustainability focus

Health, environment and animal welfare groups applaud U.S. Dietary Guidelines new sustainability focus

Obama administration urged to embrace Advisory Committee recommendations for more plants, fewer animal proteins

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A broad coalition of 49 health, environment and animal welfare groups urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to embrace the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s sustainability recommendations that were submitted to the agency today.

According to the Scientific Report’s executive summary, “the major findings regarding sustainable diets were 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.”

In a letter, the groups asked Secretary Vilsack and Secretary Burwell “to show a strong commitment to keeping Americans, and our shared environment, healthier by developing clear dietary recommendations on the need for reduced consumption of animal products and more plant-based foods.” Signatories of the letter include Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, Friends of the Earth, Healthy Food Action, Center for Biological Diversity, American Public Health Association, Yale University Prevention Research Center and Compassion in World Farming.

“The inclusion of sustainability criteria in the Dietary Guidelines’ recommendations is a huge step forward for human and planetary health,” said Kari Hamerschlag, senior program manager at Friends of the Earth. “By recommending consumption of more plant foods and less meat, these guidelines will encourage people to lessen the huge impact of our diets on our natural resources.”

“Between the huge carbon footprint of the American diet and the vulnerability of our food system to climate change, we’re caught in a dangerous cycle that threatens our health, our food security and the planet. The Obama administration has an opportunity to address this serious threat to future generations by prioritizing sustainability in the new dietary guidelines,” said Stephanie Feldstein of the Center for Biological Diversity.

The letter from environmental and food safety groups states, “There is a strong body of scientific evidence indicating that a diet with less meat and more plant-based foods is better for our health and the health of the planet… The vast majority of animal products consumed in America today are produced with large quantities of energy-intensive inputs … and presents what the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production characterizes as ‘…an unacceptable level of risk to public health and damage to the environment.’”

The letter urges the USDA to resist congressional pressure “…to exclude considerations for sustainability from their final report. To do so would be irresponsible, especially since current industrial food production methods can work to undercut the nation’s long-term food security by contributing to biodiversity loss, soil degradation, water contamination, climate change, and antibiotic resistance.”

The letter also urged the government “…to encourage Americans to consider the methods by which food is produced. More sustainable methods, including organic agriculture and well managed pasture-based livestock systems, promote soil quality, conserve freshwater and other natural resources, promote agricultural biodiversity, and protect pollinators and other beneficial organisms.”

“The food we eat and how it’s raised has a profound effect on public health and the environment,” said Bob Martin, director of Food System Policy at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. “This is especially true in meat production where the industrial model is unsustainable and a potential threat to public health, due in part to the routine use of antibiotics. Dietary guidelines must include how meat is raised, as well as lowering consumption.”

“For today’s newborns to become tomorrow’s Stephen Hawking or Steve Jobs, we’ve got to conserve the farmers, water and other resources we need to grow the healthy foods for nourishing them for the next half century, or more,” said David Wallinga, MD, of Healthy Food Action. “Sustainability has to be core to the Dietary Guidelines, in other words.”


Expert contacts:
Kari Hamerschlag, Friends of the Earth, (510) 207-7257, [email protected]
Bob Martin, Johns Hopkins Center for A livable Future, (410) 502-7578, [email protected]
David Wallinga, MD, Healthy Food Action, (612) 423-9666, [email protected]  
Stephanie Feldstein, Center for Biological Diversity, (734) 395-0770, [email protected]

Communications contact: Kate Colwell, (202) 222-0744, [email protected]

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